I know I’m not alone in saying I think Soul Coughing broke up earlier than I wanted them to. Having been a teenager when it happened, I never really had the chance to see them live. And furthermore, El Oso, their final album, was pretty good. At the very least, I can say they didn’t go out embarrassingly, but it still left us Soul Coughing fans wanting more. Within a year or two of their break-up, however, news about a Mike Doughy solo album surfaced, though it never had an official label release. Fans traded it on Napster and Doughty began selling it from his website and at shows. And though I had seen much about Skittish, I had never actually heard it. And then, a couple years later, Doughty recorded another EP titled Rockity Roll, which is the best name for a record, ever. Still, I had never actually heard them, due to their relative inaccessibility. I say relative because I could have bought a copy online, though I never actually got around to it. And I could have downloaded it, but part of me wanted a tangible copy, rather than digital files.
But this year, thanks to ATO Records, Mike Doughty finally sees his two solo records released on a two-disc set. For those who already owned copies, this may not be a big deal. However, I and many others did not, and now we can enjoy holding these records in our hands. And lucky for us, there are bonus tracks on these puppies!
Skittish and Rockity Roll don’t necessarily pick up where El Oso left off. In fact, the former was actually recorded around the same time as Soul Coughing’s Irresistible Bliss and seems to have more in common with that album than Oso‘s electronic leanings. In a way, both releases sound like Soul Coughing in that Doughty’s songwriting is unmistakable. And yet, both are much simpler and less reliant on samples than Soul Coughing ever was. Skittish is a predominantly acoustic album that strips Doughty’s talents down to their most bare. Songs like “The Pink Life,” “All the Dirt” and the outstanding “Thank You Lord, For Sending Me the F Train” are catchy pop anthems that present Doughty as an irrefutably fantastic songwriter. Songs like “No Peace, Los Angeles” add flourishes of strings to the otherwise bare-bones arrangements. And Doughty even tries his hand at a Mary J. Blige cover. And as usual, his lyrics are as genius as they come, ranging from topics such as public transportation and meeting Sam Cooke and Ian Curtis in Heaven.
Rockity Roll adds the one thing that was missing from Skittish — a drum machine. In songs like “Ways and Means,” “27 Jennifers” and “Ossining,” Doughty fills his sound a bit more, creating the closest thing he’s ever done to a basic three-chord pop record. But even at his simplest, Doughty is smarter and groovier than his acoustic white-boy contemporaries. “Down on the River by the Sugar Plant” even sees him returning to a danceable style, though not necessarily one similar to Soul Coughing. And, perhaps ironically, “Cash Cow” is the most top-forty Doughty has ever sounded.
And then there’s the extras — two live tracks, two Skittish outtakes and a song from the Evenhand soundtrack. Though the Skittish outtakes are brief, they’re quite good, and “I Failed to Use It” even uses the line “I dream that she aims to be the bloom upon my misery,” which later appeared in El Oso‘s “I Miss the Girl.” We waited a while to see these records released in a more accessible format, and for our patience, we were rewarded with a few extra tracks. Not a bad stocking stuffer, if you ask me.
Soul Coughing – Irresistible Bliss
Travis Morrison – Travistan
Elvis Costello – any two disc twos of Rhino’s Expanded Series
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.