Most childhood favorites are put away at adulthood – even at adolescence – but there is a few that retain their charm. Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes comic strips are good examples, but the best is still The Muppets. The characters and their assorted TV shows & movies charmed from Generation X well into Generation Y, and Sesame Street is still going strong (despite efforts to cut funding for public broadcasting…). Like The Simpsons, the characters never age, and even if their new material is never as good as their old, there’s a clear timeless quality about the "not quite a mop, not quite puppet…" (Homer’s description of them, from their classic The Muppets Go Medieval with Troy McClure). This both benefits, but also hinders, when the more mainstream side of the alt-world covers their songs in Muppets: The Green Album.
Covering a classic is always hard – for every Jimmi Hendrix doing Dylan’s "All Along the Watchtower", there’s thousands of Motley Crüe doing "Anarchy In the U.S.A." And when it’s a beloved children’s classic? Near impossible. Only OK Go (QRO live review) makes any stab at reinvention of a classic, in their ‘OK Go cool’ version of The Muppet Show theme to open the album. While it’s not as good as the original, it’s still enjoyable, and gave this great video:
OK Go & The Muppets’ video for "The Muppets Show Theme Song":
The simple & ultra-sweet Muppet songs are largely played straight: Weezer (QRO live review – who have their own Green Album) team up with Hayley Williams (of Paramore) for "The Rainbow Connection", Andrew Bird (QRO album review) goes conversational for "Bein’ Green", Matt Nathanson croons on "I Hope That Something Better Comes Along", and Rachael Yamagata makes like Alice in Wonderland on "I’m Going To Go Back There Someday". They’re all sweet if you love The Muppets, but probably cloying if you don’t.
Perhaps the best two songs are "Mahna Mahna" by The Fray (QRO album review) and "Moving Right Along" by Alkaline Trio (QRO album review). The former is a great Muppets/Sesame Street ditty that you might not know, but will love, and The Fray don’t mess it up by trying to change anything. The latter is a road song from The Muppet Movie, that Alkaline Trio make into some fun punk.
The Green Album also has some songs that even most fans of The Muppets probably don’t know. Sondre Lerche’s (QRO live review) "Mr. Bassman" rivals "Mahna Mahna" for simple awesomeness, while The Airborne Toxic Event (QRO photos) sound like The Strokes (QRO album review) on "Wishing Song" – and that’s a good thing for ATE. There are a number of successful, but not very good artists on The Green Album, and while the likes of The Fray & The Airborne Toxic Event don’t do damage, Evanscence’s Amy Lee tries to be a haunting leading lady on "Halfway Down the Stairs", while Brandon Saller of Atreyu & Billy Martin of Good Charlotte go hard & heavy on "Night Life". At least neither ruins a classic.
A lot of the love for The Muppets comes from pure nostalgia, of a childhood without responsibilities, when funny puppet-like creatures would tell you that you’re free to be you, let your freak (or monster) flag fly, and other positive reassurances that usually don’t work as adults. There’s also that The Muppets are one of the few pieces of pop culture that not only straddle alt- & mainstream, but also child & adult – lets an adult hipster enjoy something for mainstream kids (the most unhippest of people). The Green Album isn’t going to change your mind about The Muppets (in either direction), or about the artists who cover them, and it’s hit or miss like any compilation. But how can you not love The Muppets?
MP3 Stream: "Movin’ Right Along"