The Muppets: The Green Album
Walt Disney Records, 2011
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/02/2012
Nostalgia is a funny thing: there are the people who actually lived through and experienced a certain event or cultural trend, and then there are the people who have not. Yet there are times when both kinds of people have the same adoration and respect for whatever it is. How that happens is a question better left for a sociologist, but it’s something I would wager dollars to donuts that everyone reading this has experienced.
The short explanation of this phenomenon is that with the evolution of technology in the last decade, a great deal of what the generations that came before me experienced is accessible in some form. YouTube, Google Books, Wikipedia: there is just a ridiculous amount of aggregation going on that simply was not possible a mere ten years ago.
Take for example the fact that I personally was not around when The Muppets were actually on the air. Oh sure, there were specials and other assorted Jim Henson productions throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that introduced me to Kermit and Gonzo, and Miss Piggy, but they weren’t the same as those first Henson projects that my parents watched and traveled to a theater for. Thing of it is, when word first started to reach my ear that a “reboot,” if you will, of The Muppets was coming this year, the excitement at Casa De Clutterbuck was palpable.
It is because I’ve had the chance to be exposed to The Muppets via the routes previously mentioned. There is a way to see just what all the old folks are talking about! There is a way to marvel at just how wonderfully “The Rainbow Connection” encapsulated the philosophy of Jim Henson. There is a chance to see the heartbreak and devastation that accompanied his passing, to see what he meant to the world as a whole.
Sure, there is a level of commercialism to be found in a record such as The Green Album. To package old classics in shiny new wrapping is considered a can’t miss strategy by the suits in the industry. But buried below that crass exploitation are some performances that reveal the artist gets what they are supposed to be doing. There’s a genuine love for the material that shines through, which I find interesting considering there are a number of artists/bands that also were not alive in the time of The Muppet Show.
Choosing from the vast catalogue of songs that were featured in the various iterations of The Muppet franchise could not have been easy; it’s very nice to see that forgotten tracks from forgotten specials were deemed worthy of inclusion. “Our World” from the Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas easily ranks as one of the best songs to come out of the classic Henson period, and the oft-overlooked “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along” and “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday” step out from the shadow of the legendary “Rainbow Connection” to receive their time in the sun.
Conventional was certainly not a word that ever really applied to The Muppets in any form, which is a definite factor in their continuing popularity. The best performances to come out of The Green Album are those that find a similar thread, and dare I say it, have fun with the performances. I value the sacredness of the material, but to play these songs safe is jut completely contrary to what the original spirit of The Muppets was all about.
OK Go was saddled with the task of recreating the “Muppet Show Theme Song,” and what they devised was a cover of a song that would never be a hit in any sense, but is deliciously weird nonetheless. The trappings of the technology of the day don’t override the whimsy and silliness of the original. Along those lines, Rachel Yamagata absolutely knocks her contribution (“I’m Going To Go Back There Someday”) out of the ballpark, recreating the pathos of Gonzo’s skyward musings from The Muppet Movie.
There is also no way for this review to end without a brief discussion of the “Rainbow Connection.” River Cuomo of Weezer and Hayley Williams certainly don’t embarrass themselves; it’s damn near impossible to ruin the message and natural beauty of the song. But the earnestness and sweet naivety of original don’t quite break through, and that has to be embraced in order for the song to be complete.
The fans of The Muppets will relish the fact that some of these songs that they remember from their childhood have been revitalized, but fans are expected to think that. The thing about The Muppets is that they appeal in a broader sense; the hardcore fans certainly love them, but it sure seems as if they aren’t the only ones. Nostalgia can sure be a wonderful thing.