Mike Doughty – Circles

Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless How Many Cans? True Dreams of Wichita Monster Man Mr. Bitterness Maybe I’ll Come Down St. Louise Is Listening I Miss the Girl Unmarked Helicopters The Idiot Kings So Far I Have Not Found the Science
Year :
Soul Coughing / Beck / Primus

I own every Soul Coughing album. I own all the studio albums Mike Doughty has released up until Sad Man Happy Man. I have read The Book of Drugs, Doughty’s memoir about growing up, his musical career, and dealing with drug addiction. I consider a lot of his music (both his solo output and with Soul Coughing), to be exceptional. I count these songs among my favorites. I give him the bulk of the credit for this. I am familiar with the man’s work.

I do not know Mike Doughty.

This is not a statement of shock—it’s a statement of fact. I’ve never hung out with him, we’ve never talked on the phone or exchanged emails. He is simply a stranger I happen to know a lot about. So when he says that the songs on Circles Super Bon Bon… (an album of Soul Coughing covers whose title is, apparently, just the list of the songs on the album in what seems to be no particular order) are “the songs as I meant them to be…how I heard them in my head,” I have no reason to think otherwise. But, for some reason, I do.

If you are a fan of Doughty or Soul Coughing, you might already know that he doesn’t look back particularly fondly on his time in the band, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t love the contributions made by the other members. If you listen to the band’s albums and compare them with the songs on Skittish and Rockity Roll (solo albums that Doughty wrote the music for during and shortly after Soul Coughing’s tenure), you can hear how some of the songs could have fluidly moved from one project to the other.

This is what makes the new version of “Circles” so tough to listen to. Of the songs on Circles Super Bon Bon…, “Circles” probably sounds the closest to something that could have been on an early solo album—more so than anything else Soul Coughing ever recorded. So, to hear Doughty insist that this new version is supposedly “more in line” with how he envisioned the song, it feels disingenuous to me.

None of which is to say that Mike Doughty isn’t allowed to do this to his songs. They are his, and I am a firm believer that art belongs to the artist more than it belongs to anyone else. He can do whatever he wants to them, audience be damned, and I’ll stand by his right to do it. But, I can’t help but feel this is less about making the music he always wanted to make and more about separating his songs from the band that caused him so much emotional turmoil.

Is he right to look back bitterly at what became of the band he started? Of course. Is he allowed to do whatever he wants to his songs? I think so, and it seems he does as well. I only wish he could see that, somewhere in the middle, a lot of music was created by Soul Coughing that’s loved by a lot of people who also love him.

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Matthew Belair (@14Belair42) grew up on the classic rock of his parents and the 90s alt-rock of his older sister before discovering other genres to love, all of which are cool, hip, and in no way embarrassing to admit publicly.

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