Though they’ve never really dropped off the map completely, Jim Henson’s lovable Muppets seem to be enjoying something of a cultural resurgence lately. A lot of that probably has to do with the upcoming Jason Segel/Amy Adams film simply called The Muppets, as well as the fact that many people who enjoyed the characters as kids are now coming to the age where it’s acceptable, even desirable, to embrace their childhood loves again.
You can add The Green Album to the list of cultural artifacts presaging the return of these creatures to full-on popularity. The record’s aimed exactly at the people described above, who in the years between their childhood and now have cultivated “cool” tastes, of which the Muppets have become a part. One look at the pedigree of bands and artists contributing to this compilation can’t help but impress — Weezer, My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird and the rest all stand in the upper echelons of their respective fields, and it’s rare that any kind of tribute album could cull such noteworthy acts together.
But then again, those artists are obviously Muppets fans themselves. Every song on this record has clearly been recorded with love and respect for the source material. That means that the fun and goofy songs maintain their sense of energy and abandon, even with groups that don’t normally deliver it — has Alkaline Trio ever sounded as happy as on “Movin’ Right Along?” — while the more earnest numbers remain genuinely, sometimes surprisingly, emotional. The one-two closing punches of “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along” and “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” (by Matt Nathanson and Rachael Yamagata, respectively) makes you forget that you’re listening to a Muppet tribute record — they’re genuinely touching, emotional numbers that any artist would be lucky to claim as their own.
The best songs on The Green Album (and almost all of them are good) maintain the feeling of the original Muppets numbers while unmistakably sounding like the band performing them. You couldn’t miss that OK Go does “Muppet Show Theme Song,” that The Airborne Toxic Event owns “Wishing Song,” that “Bein’ Green” represents Andrew Bird through and through. That means that, if any people out there exist who haven’t heard of the Muppets (let us pity their souls), there’s still enough here to win them over.
It must be said, the only song that doesn’t really work here is The Fray’s “Mahna Mahna.” Of course as one of the most recognizable Muppet numbers it had to be included, but The Fray play it far too close to the original to really make it noteworthy, and frankly, they’re a pretty terrible band anyway. One wishes the producers of this record would have just licensed the superior Cake version from a few years ago instead.
All in all, though, The Green Album excels at its goal — reinterpreting classic Muppets songs through the lens of indie/alternative rock. Records like these always run the risk of taking on the “novelty” label, but Green Album‘s honest and excellent performances defy it. Fans of the Muppets or these bands will almost certainly enjoy what they find here.
Muppets: The Green Album Tracklist:
01. OK Go, “The Muppet Show Theme Song”
02. Weezer feat. Hayley Williams of Paramore, “Rainbow Connection”
03. The Fray, “Mahna Mahna”
04. Alkaline Trio, “Movin’ Right Along”
05. My Morning Jacket, “Our World”
06. Sondre Lerche, “Mr. Bassman”
07. Amy Lee, “Halfway Down the Stairs”
08. The Airborne Toxic Event, “Wishing Song”
09. Brandon Saller of Atreyu, “Night Life”
10. Andrew Bird, “Bein’ Green”
11. Matt Nathanson, “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along”
12. Rachel Yamagata, “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”
Buy ‘The Green Album’ on iTunes or Amazon.
What’s interesting is that at least 2 of the songs on here were actually covers by the muppets: Mah-Na Mah-Na is by Piero Umiliani from a soundtrack for the soft-core Sweden, Heaven and Hell; and Mr. Bassman was originally by Johnny Cymbal.