Mike Doughty – Haughty Melodic

Mike Doughty
Haughty Melodic

In the mid-90s, it would be hard to find a band that was more perfectly geeky yet brilliant than Soul Coughing. The band’s debut, Ruby Vroom remains on my list of favorite albums for the perfect blend of white-boy rap and funk and rock ‘n roll. The band’s success was inevitable, as it rode the funky beats, silly lyrics, and catchy songwriting of frontman Mike Doughty.

Yet after Soul Coughing’s break up, few would expect the route Doughty took. His first album, Skittish, was reluctantly released on CD after mp3s were making the rounds among fans. It featured Doughty playing acoustic guitar and singing, dismissing the rapping vocal style for a more humble approach that combined bits of gospel and folk and rock. He toured solo and the music caught on, and soon label interest came calling, leading to a proper release of Skittish and its follow-up EP Rockity Roll. Haughty Melodic is a suitable sophomore full-length, moving Doughty clearly into the limelight.

The opening track on Haughty Melodic is nearly perfect, the ultimate combination of everything Doughty does well. The guitar is catchy and upbeat, the lyrics storytelling, the chorus relentlessly, as you can’t help but sing along to “Lonely, and the only way to beat it is to bat it down” (repeated three times). The catchy “Tremendous Brunettes,” featuring Dave Matthews, is fun enough, but its successor, “I Hear the Bells,” with some wonderful female vocals, is one of Doughty’s best tracks.

There’s still the more personal-feeling songs here, performed flawlessly by Doughty with his acoustic guitar front and center but able accompaniment on keys and drums. “Unsingable Name” is one of my favorites, and “American Car” has a vintage American rock feel to it (and some nice slide guitar). Going back to that old-time gospel feel he did so well on Skittish is “Grey Ghost,” a lovely and sweet song, and you see bits of that in its follow-up, “His Truth is Marching On.”

Unfortunately, Haughty Melodic, in its attempt to gain a wider audience, does have some clunkers. There’s the three-song hit of “Madeline and Nine” and “Busting Up a Starbucks” – which he’s been playing live for some time – and the album’s low point, “White Lexus.” The songs aren’t outright terribly, just boring and simple compared to what Doughty has already shown us to be capable of.

I would never have made a link between Doughty and Dave Matthews, save for the fact that Doughty is one of the first big signings to Matthews’ ATO Records label. And the more I think about it, the more similarities I see to the quickly strummed acoustic guitar and even singing style, to some degree. Doughty is his own man, though, and his songs, for the most part, are strong and unique, with a wonderful mix of styles that seem like they should never work together, and yet they always do.