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Singer-songwriter and former Soul Coughing leader Mike Doughty released Circle Super Bon Bon… on September 17th just as he promised his fans he would.
After making an announcement earlier this year, Doughty decided to revisit original Soul Coughing tracks and create them how he originally imagined during his time as the band’s leader. He had opened up about his unpleasant time in the band in his memoir The Book of Drugs. From the outside, Soul Coughing seemed to be having a good time making music and performing for their cult-like following; but Doughty had been struggling with addiction and internal strife. He would sometimes have to fight with his other band members to have songs go a certain way, and often times would compromise. Though Soul Coughing had a brief four year life as a group, they gained a cult following because of their unique song structure and slam-poetry style lyrics.
For Mike Doughty, making Circles Super Bon Bon was probably a nostalgic and therapeutic experience. Eager to leave the ghosts of his past behind, his new album takes on a positive twist and moves infinite times faster than the original Soul Coughing tracks. It sounds like Doughty is able to be celebratory about his past instead of letting it hinder him.
Whether someone has heard Mike Doughty before, either with Soul Coughing or solo, or never heard him sing before, his voice combines the perfect amount of 90s grit and 2000s alternative and pop. The opening song “Sleepless” starts with a moderate tempo clap and is filled with a lingering steel guitar riff. Originally a slow building meditative track, it is now a bouncing, alternative rock track aimed at people willing to move while they listen.
The rest of the album follows this trend and never falls flat. “True Dreams of Wichita” most heavily demonstrates Doughty’s delicate balance between using original elements and his own changes. In this song he uses the same slow moving bass line, but infuses his own synth driven beats and makes the listener want to sing along. Doughty’s use of his own influences and synth beats completely revives the album as a whole, but never loses the original intensity.
“Mr. Bitterness” is one of the most different songs when compared to the original track. Doughty plays a soulful acoustic melody and shows his completely reinforced positively. “Everything moves along, everything is fine, fine, fine,” he sings in the following song, “The Idiot Kings.” This track is much brighter than the original, using a different key and another acoustic melody much like his revised “Maybe I’ll Come Down.”
“Circles,” originally from Soul Coughing’s 1998 album El Oso, and “Super Bon Bon” from 1994’s Irresistible Bliss are considered their two most famous songs. It is somewhat surprising how drastic these songs were altered by Doughty, considering how they stapled they are to Soul Coughing’s 90s fame. “Circles” feels like it should be heard on a beach at sunset, with muted guitar chords and a quirky key board harmony. Both take a new life Doughty intended that is hard not to enjoy.
For someone who never heard Mike Doughty before, some of these songs could be off a Matt Kearney album or the newest Nine Inch Nails record. For old fans of Soul Coughing, listening to Mike Doughty’s will be a fascinating experience. Doughty was able to pump life in to his old work, while never completely losing the original core.