Sunday, August 01, 2004

Fatcat and Fishface

My daughter Evalyn (3 yrs) has been listening and listening lately to "Fatcat & Fishface, horrible songs for children," the 1997 debut CD from a New Zealand duo called Fatcat and Fishface. (How did we happen onto this? By volunteering to judge the CMW awards!)

Evalyn absolutely loves this CD and practically has it memorized. She pretends to be "Fatcat" to my "Fishface" and we sing the title song together. She loves to discuss which song comes next, and notices little things about the arrangements, like the abrupt ending to "Flyby," which makes her laugh out loud.

This CD is probably not for everyone. There are some gross things in it, which sound worse than they are when put in print, but here goes. "Little AnimalEater" is a song about a house cat, but this is no cute kitty. This cat hunts, "crying out for blood and bone!" Some cat owners will definitely relate. Being about a cat, this is one of Evalyn's favorite songs on the album. The natural violence does not seem to bother her.

Another song that might gross you out is "Flyby" which is about a house fly, "Looking for a place to lay her maggots." She buzzes around trying out different foods and ends up doing a tap dance in the fridge. It's hilarious, if the image of laying "maggots" doesn't freak you out.

Then there are some really creepy cuts. They come three in a row near the end. "Joe" is catchy nonsense about a monster, sung in a scary voice. "Sing Along" is a short piece with a whispered voice, inviting you to "sing along" but to what? Then "Impossible Dancing Song" is someting of a chant with a weird rhythm and Halloweenish voices going on in the background. Evalyn thinks this one is scary. These three are the most experimental pieces on the album. I like them, but they probably won't appeal to everyone.

Finally, the singing voices on this album do take some getting used to. Fatcat and Fishface are two female voices (the names of the artists are not revealed in the CD booklet). They rarely if ever sing naturally. They use falsetto, nasel, gravelly, and other affectations for various effects. Add to this a thick New Zealand accent ("Lie - zee, lie - zee, maybe ahll - neever mind" = "Lazy, Lazy, maybe I'll - nevermind") and there's a lot to get used to for an American ear.

Now, having said all this, I highly recommend this CD. Get it and listen to it three or four times before you pass judgement.

The instrument parts are sparse, with electric guitar and organ on most tracks, supplimented with bass, percussion, and vibes. But they are very well arranged, with just the right amount of counterpoint to the voices, and are clearly performed by talented musicians. There is nothing here that is musically uninteresting or cliche. It's all fun to hear.

The songs are simple but never simplistic. The melodies are catchy and original and range from etherial ("Pretty, Sweetie, Happy, and Lucky") to raucous ("Little AnimalEater"). The lyrics take an overall darker tone than most children's fare, but there is plenty of humor ("Flyby," "Favourite Undies"). Definitely there is nothing cutesy or sugary here!

Many of the songs depict a gritty view of a child's world. In "Pick Me," the singer laments, "They never pick me. The ones who do the picking never see who I be. They never pick me." In "Lazy," the kids are just being lazy, so much so that the song peters out at the end with the very gravely voices of singers who can't be bothered to breathe before singing.

The songs never moralize. You just get little vignettes of what is. In "Lazy" there is no consequence, just the attitude. In "I Never," two childen fight with cliche'd threats and accusations, but no resolution. "You Are What You Eat" plays around with words, but never makes the odious point that you should eat healthy foods. I like this approach, and I think older kids will appreciate it very much. The writers keep it light and let you draw your own conclusions.

This is a very creative and unique album. It's an adventure, and it's one you'll be glad you undertook. Lisa and I don't mind that our daughter wants to hear it over and over - it's one of our favorites too. So get the CD and listen until you love it!


  1. Anonymous2:25 PM

    Monty, first of all, I know the 'Fatcat & Fishface' CD that you are speacking of and I am so surprised that you're going on record to recommend it. Yeah, I know music is a subjective thing, but I'm even more surpised that with all the wonderful, age-appropriate, musically exciting, lyrically engaging music out there for 3 year olds, that you feed her musical diet with 'Fatcat & Fishface.' Hmmm.....

  2. Thanks for your comment. It's all highly subjective, as you say!

    We play all sorts of music for Evalyn. She likes all of it, but she does have her favorites, which she requests repeatedly and sings constantly. Fatcat and Fishface is one of those. In my opinion it is "wonderful, age-appropriate, musically exciting, lyrically engaging music" for any age. I find it wildly creative and very well done, and I think that's why Evalyn responds to it so well.

    But as I said in my review, it's not for everyone. I tried to describe the potential drawbacks well enough that a parent can read the review and decide from it whether they are likely to enjoy the CD or not.

  3. Anonymous11:12 AM

    My 3 year and I love it!!!! My daughter wants to hear it over and over. It's a really great album. The singers are very, very talented.

  4. Mandy The Teacher11:35 AM

    I have just gotten this album for my classroom, and I have to say that it seems to be a hit with all the children. Music is not subjective to every age; until about 5 or 6 children generally like the music that they hear the most. Until then, they will engage with and react to music of any kind.