Thursday, 10 April 2008

THE BACKYARDIGANS WITH ALICIA KEYS: Almost Everything Is Boinga!


What the music of the Backyardigans is not is Mutant Disco reincarnated or cryogenically preserved, fortune forbid. Yes, Evan Lurie is responsible for the music, in the sense that everyone has to make a living, but also in the sense that he brings to the gleeful table invention, modesty and aptness. Had a concrete effort been made to reproduce some forlorn spirit of 1981 the Backyardigans' music would have been lyrically over-qualified, structurally clumsy and the very opposite of attractive. This is by no means a slight on those who helped make 1981 possible, merely a warning against those who would seek to recreate it by second hand means only, and thankfully the surviving driving spirits of that year have by and large been wise enough to avoid the trap.


Of the three available soundtrack albums available I have only heard the most recent, Born To Play, and of the series itself I have seen nothing; indeed the 22 songs are so good that I almost don't want to watch it and leave it to the kids for whom it is intended without my view spoiling its presumed splendour. Nor is there any overt Lounge Lizards influence except in the marvellous "Lady In Pink" featuring a near-unrecognisable Cyndi Lauper, and maybe in the atonal accordion/clarinet dialogue two thirds of the way through "Tuba Polka."


Everywhere, however, there is invention and admirable concision, Morgan Fisher's Miniatures reworked by the Mike Sammes Singers - if only more contemporary pop would be honest enough to let songs lie at one or two minutes! Stylistically the word is "gamut" but the performances and songs are so good that any suggestion of artificial eclecticism is swiftly dismissed; the superb Motown pastiche of "W-I-O-Wa" ("The corniest station in the nation"), the improbable snowbound C&W of "I'm A Mountie," the lovely, squelching electropop of "Nobody's Bigger Than A Giant," the pleasantly surprising hardcore Cajun romps of "Go, Go, Go!" and "Racing Day."


For useful comparison purposes one would have to look to the classic School House Rock songs, or a younger Brian Wilson before family and the world did things to him; the latter's transistor radio saga on Holland is indeed paralleled here by the closing suite Tale Of The Mighty Knights. The characters' backyards are apparently a green tabula rasa from which any adventure can be launched - it sounds somewhere between Mr Benn and the Teletubbies - and this fantastic sextet of linked songs should be used as a model example to all modern ramblers and unfocused Xeroxists of would-be pop. "Dragon Mountain" for instance is arguably a better rock song than anything that the White Stripes have ever done, and the Fiery Furnaces could learn a trick or two from the sly wit of "Goblin."


But pride of place, for now, has to go to this collaboration with Alicia Keys, who very noticeably has rarely sounded so happy or fresh on her own records. A fulsome Afrobeat is backed up by lugubrious trombone and shiny yellow trumpets and drums as the various characters discuss the language of Keys, who plays a Martian Mother and comes from a land or a planet so contented with itself that it only needs the word "Boinga!" to sum up everything ("Do you use pots and pans?/Yup, we call them Boinga!" "Do your flowers smell Boinga?/No, they just smell sweet!"). It's a lovely little lecture in mutual linguistic learning - the show is aimed at 2-6 year olds - set to a song and performance so catchy that it would indeed be a worthy number one in the eminently noble "Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh!" and "Can We Fix It?" tradition. A splendid record...and I'm sure that the show itself more than lives up to the music.