The Simpsons Sings The Blues was released at a time when The Simpsons as a franchise was still very much in its infancy, long before it turned into the shambling, soulless monstrosity of piss-poor characterisation and celebrity cameos that it’s become. As a result, it’s a rather interesting time capsule of Matt Groening’s vision for his creation.
This is most apparent by the fact that Bart (a character I never really warmed to – he just seemed unnecessarily cruel most of the time) has two solo numbers and two duets, clearly marking this album as something prior to when 20th Century Fox realised that people liked Homer more. This is borne out by the fact that the first song is sung by Bart. Do The Bartman is well-known to anybody who can remember the early 90’s. It’s an okay little tune, but it works a lot better with the music video and it’s clearly rap, not blues. I believe this what they call “false advertising”.
The next song, School Day, also a Bart number (I told you they were pushing him as the face of The Simpsons…) is also one that is more good than great, only this song is actually rock & roll – it’s a reworked version of the classic Chuck Berry tune No Particular Place To Go. It’s saved somewhat by the fact that Buster Poindexter (alias David Johansen) acquits himself well as Bart’s duet partner, but it’s not quite enough.
The album only really starts to hit its stride with the third track; Homer giving a gutsy rendition of Born Under A Bad Sign. It says a lot that after about 9 minutes of non-stop Bart, a song by Homer manages to provide twice as much enjoyment in almost a third of the time. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the first blues song on the album (though thankfully not the last) and the lead guitarist is none other than the late B.B. King. Yes, really.
Moanin’ Lisa Blues is basically an extended version of the song played at the end of Moanin’ Lisa (arguably the episode where the series started to truly hit its stride). It’s a nice little song – certainly the best original song on the album – and Yeardley Smith does a superb job on the vocals. A solid number, and a definite highlight.
Unfortunately, the next song – Deep, Deep Trouble – serves only to quickly destroy the goodwill made by the previous two songs for two reasons; 1) It’s a solo number by Bart, again… and 2) it’s a rap song, again. I have nothing against rap in general, but for an album specifically called The Simpson Sing The Blues I’d like to think that when I’m halfway through the album I’d have heard more than two blues songs. Oh, and this particular song was co-produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff, otherwise known as “that guy from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air who got thrown out a lot”.
Fortunately, the mood is set right again by a surprisingly powerful cover of God Bless The Child – another Lisa solo number. It really helps that Yeardley Smith has such an excellent singing voice, and that the song has is so well-constructed; a brilliant saxophone duet by Doug Norwine and Kim Richmond, standing in for Lisa and the late Bleeding Gums Murphy, stands out in particular. This certainly would’ve been a better choice of song than the indefensibly cheesy Jazz Man cover used in Round Springfield.
Next is the second and final song by Homer, this time duetting with Marge in a very endearing rendition of I Like To See You Smile. The song should hampered by the fact that Julie Kavner’s voice – at least when she’s playing Marge – doesn’t lend itself well to song. However, both Kavner and Castellaneta imbue their performance with such sincerity, it’s hard not to be charmed by the whole thing.
Springfield Soul Stew manages to overcome Kavner’s musical limitations by simply letting her give the cues for perfectly executed instrumental sections. Short but sweet.
Look At All These Idiots may be a rap song, but it has two points in its favour; not only the last rap song on the album, and it’s the best rap song on the album. Harry Shearer does a wonderful job on what is definitely the funniest song on the entire album.
Sibling Rivalry not only ends the album, it also kind of sums it up… in that it’s not a blues song, Bart is one of the vocalists and it’s pretty good. In terms of its composition, it’s more Leonard & Bernstein than John Lee Hooker but it’s nice enough, and could’ve easily been used in an episode.
If you want an eccentric blues album, you should look elsewhere. If you want a musical reminder of when The Simpsons was good, try Songs From Springfield or Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons. But for what it is – a short little album that’s neither truth in advertising, nor quite the sum of its parts – The Simpsons Sing The Blues is a cute impulse buy.