Rockity Roll

At some point, while I wasn’t looking, Mike Doughty reissued Rockity Roll, which I’d missed the first time around. Not one to make the same mistake twice, I snagged it before it could get away from me again.

Okay, so it was bundled with Skittish, which I already had, but the total price was still $15, so who cares? I’ve paid more for music and enjoyed it a hell of a lot less.

The solo albums are less dissociated than Doughty’s Soul Coughing work. The latter tended, while irresistibly catchy, toward word salad. This was entirely by design, and it was damn fine word salad, to be sure, but it was word salad all the same. You couldn’t stop singing along, but you weren’t always sure just what the things you were singing meant.

Skittish and Rockity Roll are more concrete. Doughty’s immense cleverness with words is still on display, but now it’s used in the service of revelation rather than obfuscation. The newer albums are about longing and loss, missed opportunities and lessons learned. They have about them the hardened, flinty optimism of a man who has been through the darkness and survived, but has not forgotten what he saw along the way.

The best I ever did with my life
Said just three honest words to you
Three droplets in pail of lies
Three gems among the alibis

Skittish is still as good as it ever was; Rockity Roll is a nice counterpoint. Where Skittish is almost austere in its acoustic arrangements, Rockity Roll adds a little more texture. Doughty himself says it most succinctly: “It’s my acoustic thing, plus some low-fi, fake new wave drum machine and synthesizer that I played/programmed.” While no one in their right mind would describe the result as overproduced, it feels lusher, acoustically, than Skittish did. (It also contains a live version of “The Only Answer”, a song that previously appeared both on Smofe + Smang: Live in Mpls. and Skittish. The new version features some delightful counterpoint courtesy of an anonymous keyboardist. The only thing marring it is what seems to be some nasty distortion in the live recording. I’d love to hear a cleaned-up studio production of that arrangement.)

It’s good, good stuff, and money well spent.

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