Glaswegian artist David Shrigley is best known for his visual work—strange drawings of people in alternately mundane and grotesque scenes, often paired with random bits of handwritten text. He has also crafted a good many plastic, polyester and latex sculptures, which can be seen on his website (my favorite is “The Contents of the Gap Between the Refrigerator and the Cooker”), and directed a Blur video. He is also the author of a book of lyrics titled “Worried Noodles,” the content of which has been adapted by 39 different artists into new songs, collected on the Tomlab collection David Shrigley’s Worried Noodles.
The artists involved in the project range from fellow Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand to David Byrne to Liars and Deerhoof, with many lesser known, but no less entertaining acts in between. In name and in concept alone, it’s already a winner. But, of course, it’s never really that simple. I have plenty of compilations that seemed cool at the time that I never pull off the shelf anymore. Such is not the case with Worried Noodles. Now, granted, it hasn’t been out that long, but damned if there aren’t some truly wonderful tracks on this compilation, with lyrics courtesy of David Shrigley, of course.
Given the nature of the source material, there’s a cartoonish undercurrent running through most of the songs, from the brief opening of Roger Ferguson’s “Welcome Singer,” to R. Stevie Moore’s gentle narrator in “Live in Fear,” to the strummy playfulness of Scarlet’s Well’s “Maybe” to the drippy percussion and random chants in Psapp’s otherwise elegant and, uh, sad, “Sad Song.” Not every artist opts for the quirky or silly, however, and this is often where the album reaches its peaks. Take, for instance, Grizzly Bear’s “Blackcurrant Jam.” At only three songs in, it sets an impossibly high bar for all songs to follow, as beautiful and powerful as anything from their 2006 album Yellow House, which is saying a lot. Cotton Candy’s “Sentimental Song” is exceptionally fun twee dancepunk, and David Byrne sounds magnificent just being himself in “For You.”
The Dirty Projectors take on “Come Forward” with restraint, playing a gorgeous and exotic rendition, though the Curtains opt for more quirk on “Show Me the Way Things Work,” as do Deerhoof, whose “Kidz Are So Small” (titled here “You, Dog”) was on their Friend Opportunity album. Liars sound ominous as usual on “Panic Button,” but in completely different ways, doing away with their forays into biker rock or freak folk, finding a new muse in Digital Hardcore style noise-house. Shrigley, himself, appears in collaboration with Tussle on “A Clash of Heads,” sounding more like a computer voice than an actual human being, but the absurdity is all part of the fun, I suppose. Final Fantasy’s “Joys” is rather lovely, though simple, and Mt. Eerie’s “Sentimental Song” is both grand and subdued, in only a way that Phil Elverum can be.
Two artists, Franz Ferdinand and Hot Chip, tackle “No,” to very different ends. Franz turns the song into a mess of crashing guitars, turning the title word into a repetitive but cool chant, ultimately bursting into their typical brand of danceable new wave pop. Hot Chip does it up a little slower, turning the song into a pretty dirge, almost the opposite of what Franz does, and that’s sort of the beauty of each track here. While Shrigley is the composer of all of these songs, there is no melodic template upon which they are based, allowing each band to make an entirely new song out of each of them. With almost 40 different versions here, it’s way too much to take in one sitting, but the nature of compilations allows for skipping around anyhow. Just make sure to go back to that Grizzly Bear track; it’s a stunner.