Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Soul Coughing

  • Ruby Vroom [Slash/Warner Bros., 1994] A
  • Irresistible Bliss [Slash/Warner Bros., 1996] ***
  • El Oso [Slash/Warner Bros., 1998] A-
  • New York, NY 16-08-99 [Kufala, 2004]

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ruby Vroom [Slash/Warner Bros., 1994]
If it was down to M. Doughty's hipster cynicism and summer-stock declaiming, this would be a novelty act not unlike Tonio K., whose shouted studio speed-rock provided a nonpunk corrective to Jackson Browne. But the music isn't just second-rate poetry-with-fusion backup. Standup bassist Sebastian Steinberg (dig his "Misterioso" under "Casiotone Nation") and chopswise drummer Yuval Gabay (hear him threaten to fly off the track on "Blueeyed Devil") remain up front, while keyb man M'ark De Gli Antoni (that's what it says) orchestrates synthesizer and sampler for atmosphere, commentary, and plain old cheap thrills. Not that the music isn't more compelling when Doughty hits his satiric targets, the easy ones included. A

Irresistible Bliss [Slash/Warner Bros., 1996]
the five per cent nation of let's-slow-it-down-a-little-right-now ("Disseminated," "4 out of 5") ***

El Oso [Slash/Warner Bros., 1998]
They wish they could call it Il Oso, counterposing parallel verticals against circle-squiggle-circle palindrome in a visualization of their true passion: abstraction. They can't, of course, Spanish is Spanish just like groove is groove, and because they know the fundamental things apply, their abstractions still hit you in the gut. Voice-keyb-bass up top are distinct and autonomous constituents, a cable not a gumbo, with the upright romanticism of Sebastian Steinberg and try-anything soundplay of Mark De Gli Antoni providing human touch--as they'd better, because rather than anchoring or signposting, M. Doughty's words establish his intelligence and then bounce us back into the aural construct for emotion and such. You may say you pine for his sarcasm. But he'll just wonder if you thought he'd be corny forever. A-

New York, NY 16-08-99 [Kufala, 2004]
It's just as well NYC's Soul Coughing went over-and-out after three albums in 2000. Though Mike Doughty was sharper and funnier than Morphine's Mark Sandman or the Eels' Mark Oliver Everett, in the end all three were hipsters putting the beat in beat poetry, an m.o. that generally wears out no matter how ingenious the principals. But Soul Coughing were so loose and loud live that this board-tape double-CD does more than remind fans of better days. Keyboardist Mark de Gli Antoni sampled like a madman. Sebastian Steinberg got monster sound from a standup bass. Drummer Yuval Gabay's jazz chops felt the noise. And Doughty, well--wotta ham. "Power to the people--right on," he hopes sarcastically at the start. "Perhaps you would like to sing along like big jerks with me," he ventures fondly at the end. And in between he orates his songs so decisively it's like he loved them as much as the day they were born. [unknown: 3.5]