I don’t know what this says about me, or anybody else for that matter…
I’ve been a huge Tom Lehrer fan ever since my 8th Grade Social Studies teacher decided to warp all our minds by playing “That Was the Year That Was” during a reading period. (It was 1985, so it’s not like the recording was current or anything…) I was pretty instantly hooked, and a few years later when his albums were re-released on CD, bought them instantly, and have more-or-less memorized them.
I also became aware of the existence of the musical Tom Foolery, a review of Lehrer’s songs that had apparently even recorded a cast album somewhere along the line, but not anywhere that coincided with a record shop I ever saw. I had always kind of wondered about it, and about a week ago, sort of randomly popped it into an iTunes search, and was really, really surprised to see the album actually show up. In DRM free iTunes plus, no less.
The album also has 24 reviews of which break down into: a) this isn’t Tom Lehrer, b) Tom sings all these songs better, c) when is iTunes going to get real Tom Lehrer, and d) they don’t even use the real lyrics, and e) who are these whiney English people pretending to be Tom Lehrer. People seem to be genuinely angered that anybody else would even bother to record Lehrer’s songs (in addition to being somewhat confused as to what this recording actually is – for example, the “wrong” lyrics were actually written by Lehrer for the production…). Oy.
Well, I wasn’t about to let 20 some-odd random strangers dissuade me from an album I’ve been looking for for almost twenty years. Although I did pause for a microsecond or two.
Preparing for disappointment, I downloaded the album.
And you know what, it isn’t Tom Lehrer. It’s also actually pretty good. All in all, I like Lehrer’s syncopated, ironic style better on most of the songs, but it’s not true that the English cast sings the songs with no bite. It is true that they have better-trained voices than he does, and that works in favor of some songs and against others. Still, it’s nice to hear some songs in character – “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” is cute as a duet, and I liked most of the adult lyric additions to “Silent E”.
The really dark ballads don’t all do as well, but the uptempo songs are great. There are a couple of cases where the accents invalidate a rhyme or two, but overall, I had no problem with these people singing Lehrer’s songs. (It was a little weird to hear them using so much of his monologues to introduce the songs…) So, I guess it’s Random English Singers 1, Random Internet Commenters 0, at least as I keep score.
One last geeky thing… like a lot of live recordings made for vinyl, the tracks begin with the actual start of the song and end with the introduction to the next song. This is fine in a record album, where you would use the track breaks to find the beginning of the musics, but it’s really irritating in an iPod, mix-and-match world, since any song that comes up ends with the introduction to then next song that isn’t going to be played. This really bothered me for this album, since the introductions really do need to be tied to their actual songs.
But these were DRM-free songs, and I can be an own-your-media type on occasions, so I took them all into GarageBand and re-split the tracks so that the introductions are on the same tracks as the actual song. Took under an hour, and only that long because I didn’t know that GarageBand had a global preference for export quality that was set too low. Much better that way.
Speaking of iPod, mix-and-match worlds, someday I really must introduce my iTunes random playlist generator…