By Jeremy Frye
Kermit and his crew have certainly been around in the last decade, but your local multiplex has been Muppet-free since 1999’s Muppets From Space. Actor Jason Segal considered this a grave injustice and made it his personal mission to get The Fuzzy Pack back on the big screen, and more importantly, restore them to their early ‘80s box office glory days. His plan? Executive produce, co-write and star in this November’s major motion picture, The Muppets. In order to get the world properly frenzied for their return, Disney has been putting us through the paces of the months-long promotional march to the release date, with no less than three spoof trailers and now this tribute CD to the entire Muppets oeuvre.
The Muppets come from an older, definitely pre-rock ‘n’ roll, showbiz tradition, and to make singing one of their songs work, you need to get into the spirit, and belt it out, sincerely, from the diaphragm. The songs are earnest, and often, much like the classic Hollywood musicals by which they were influenced, written specifically to fit the scene they were in at the time. Some, like the cheery theme song to The Muppet Show, existed for the extremely specific purpose of introducing The Muppet Show. It was never intended to stand on its own. OK Go can only do so much with the song, and their bottom-heavy, Flaming Lips-y groove and detached vocal delivery, do little to pump you up for the rest of the disc. “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along,” originally sung by Rowlf in The Muppet Movie, makes sense there because it’s a dog singing dog-related puns (“What could be better, than a saucy Irish setter, when puppy love comes on strong?”). Here, you’ve got Matt Nathanson inexplicably singing about getting an itchin’ for a critter he’s been scratchin’.
The pathos of “Bein’ Green” has been tapped into many times in pop music history, and Andrew Bird does a lovely job with a hard to mess up tune. It works because the outsider anthem is transferrable to whatever issue you have that it ain’t easy to live with. And Weezer, no stranger to working with Muppets, sing “Rainbow Connection” (making it a duet with Paramore’s Hayley Williams), with the right mix of sincerity and Carpenters-esque mush. Sondre Lerche has fun channeling his inner Harry Nilsson on “Mr. Bassman,” and The Fray gets credit for fully embracing the silliness of “Mahna Mahna,” sounding like an inebriated Dr. John in the process. The biggest surprise of the album comes from My Morning Jacket, who take “Our World,” from the relatively obscure Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, and turn it into a beautifully strange, stand-on-its-own My Morning Jacket song.
Your enjoyment of this disc will boil down to your level of nostalgia for the songs being covered, and how much interest you have in the artists involved. That said, most of the versions featured here are thoughtful and/or fun, and not weighed down by too much ironic winking and nudging. Your inner Statler and Waldorf will only come out a few times, namely hearing Amy Lee try to give Evanescence’s trademark goth/chamber pop heft to “Halfway Down The Stairs,” and Brandon Saller of Atreyu and Billy Martin of Good Charlotte making “Night Life” an aggressive emo rocker that stands out like Gonzo’s nose on an otherwise pretty mellow affair. If you were to see The Green Album sitting on the counter at Starbucks and consider making an impulse buy because you love The Muppets, I’d say go for it. As tributes to significant portions of your childhood go, it could be much worse.