Album Review: Muppets Green Album
By Joseph Giannone 2011-08-30 18:15:57
Throughout America’s history of pop culture, there have been a few oddities that were far ahead of their times. During the 1960’s, musicians like Frank Zappa and The Beatles proved to be pioneers who looked towards the future of rock music. Comedians like George Carlin and Bill Hicks were also an evolution not many understood during their time, because they both took comedy to a whole new level by critiquing different aspects of society that nobody other than they were willing to. Actors Peter Fonda, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson also proved more talented than any current film star and television shows like The Prisoner and Arrested Development struck the boob tube far before any audience could really comprehend their evolutionary style. Not to be forgotten, A Clockwork Orange and Breathless were also films that brought many generations of confused scholars and eager fans to question everything they knew about movies.
These actors, comedians, musicians, shows and movies have all had a large impact on our lives, and on society, by either radically changing the “game,” influencing the future, being daring enough to iterate the truth or by creating timeless works that alter our perception of art. Pop culture makes a definitive mark on our society, and the Muppets are a cultural phenomenon that is still far ahead of its time. Jim Henson’s creation was an insane innovation on traditional, absurdist and slapstick comedy, as well as the increasingly trite sketch show format. This unique look was ahead of the curve on comedic sensibility but still appropriate for all ages, races and creeds.
Lo and behold Disney’s new The Muppets film, led by the extremely talented Jason Segel, will soon be here to bring back what we’ve all thought was long lost. Until then, we have The Green Album, a wonderful record of inspiring tracks good enough to live up to its source material.
The Green Album brings together artists from all walks of the music industry like My Morning Jacket, Ok Go, Amy Lee, The Fray, Andrew Bird and Weezer who all make an appearance by covering the musical efforts that were featured on The Muppet Show so many years ago. Like the original program, The Green Album is an eclectic, smart and eccentric journey through each guest appearance's effort.
The show stopper, quintessential track, “The Muppet Show Theme Song” is translated by OK Go, who create a fascinating tribute from the Muppets back catalog. OK Go still utilizes their goofy sensibility here, but not only do they celebrate the original, they also radically change the sound from its former version. My Morning Jacket’s cover of “Our World” is another example of this. “Our World” is in the band's typical style that provides psychedelic vocals and equally melodic structures to their music. The original version of this slow burner is bumped up to a notch that Jim James and company make uniquely their own. Even Andrew Bird’s take on the famous song “Bein' Green” is a standalone track that resembles only slightly its predecessor.
Instead of adhering to a strict regimen for revitalizing an “old” sound, these bands take the liberty to continue on the unexpected with The Green Album. This might be a surprise to some of you, but I can assure you that The Muppet Show was always one for innovation. Having songs that resemble close to nothing of the original version is common in the world of Muppets. Every artist featured on this album brings their own sound into these songs that complement the original compositions perfectly but also stand out as the band's own music. This radical “change” doesn’t work for all the efforts on this record though, because Weezer’s version of “Rainbow Connection” falls flat on its face, but I bet Henson would appreciate the effort
When Steve Martin, Elton John, Petula Clark, John Denver and Johnny Cash made guest appearances on The Muppet Show, they played music that was so different than what you would expect from them, but the tunes were still true to their other work. Like how the Muppets' creator set out to bring a program that could be beloved by both adults and children, this record is also a blending of the two generations from which it hails. The music is undoubtedly retro, but the fresh take on these songs by the equally talented musicians is a dashing experiment in blending eras.
The artists featured on The Green Album make a profound mark on the Henson Empire, which has given so many fans years of laughter, love, hope, and most of all, joyful greenness. These fantastic renditions of the famous songs make them just as timeless as they were in 1976. Hopefully this album will be a continuation of the trend that hasn’t failed, and when the film comes out in November, it will lead in the same game changing, ahead of the curve standard that its cover album counterpart held to. The Green Album provides so much innovation, creativity, and collection of unique takes on Henson’s most prized possessions. To be honest, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate his work.
Overall, the album works wonders with what Jim Henson created so long ago. These artists not only understand what the Muppets' most famous songs are supposed to sound like, but they also put their own unique spin on them. I couldn't ask for anything more. When I listen to a My Morning Jacket song, I want to hear My Morning Jacket. When I listen to OK Go, I want to hear the eccentric guitars and sound of OK Go. Well, you get the point. For all its loveliness, I give Muppets: The Green Album a 4.5 out of 5.