When reviewing kids music there are different criteria you have to consider. One is: does the kid like it? But the thing that really matters is: does it drive the parents crazy?
I resisted kids music for the first 24 months of my own kid’s life. Seemed unnecessary to me. Why not just play good music for him? Why condescend to him by playing stupid, simplistic crap recorded by greedheads hellbent on sucking every last penny out of concerned new parents.
I thought I was being clever by letting my kid watch the MGMT video on YouTube. And I was so proud of him when he would shout “BRUMS!” when the drums kick in. He called it the “bubbles song” because of the gurgling electronic noises in the song’s intro.
But then one day we were in the car listening to something else and he repeated some word mentioned in the lyrics to whatever song that was playing on the radio. And at that moment I realized it wasn’t really appropriate for my kid to be listening to a song that advocates doing heroin, fucking with stars, and dying young. So we retired the bubbles song.
Not knowing much about kids music, I retreated to my own childhood with Peter, Paul & Mommy and School House Rock. He seemed to tolerate these songs, especially “Three is a Magic Number,” which features awesome BRUMS! After that we dug out the various kids albums we got for baby showers and birthdays. Most of it is folksy, pleasant, acoustic music about cars and trains and ladybugs. But some of it is downright annoying.
You know who’s really annoying? They Might Be Giants. As if the regular TMBG albums aren’t dorky and G-rated enough, now they’ve got to simplify their music even more? And maybe it’s just me but it sounds like they’re singing louder, the way people do with people who don’t speak English very well. But that brings me back to my original question: why—other than for crass marketing purposes—make kids music when your regular music is kid-friendly? Especially when the only difference is that your kids music is just more annoying?
So the most important thing with kids music, like all music, is that it must not be painful to listen to.
My wife might disagree with me, but Robbert Bobbert & The Bubble Machine is not painful to listen to. Robbert Bobbert is the kids music alter ego of Robert Schneider of the Apples in Stereo and producer for the Elephant 6 collective. If you’re into the Apples and you have a kid, you probably already bought this album. If not, consider yourself warned that this falls closer to They Might Be Giants on the kids music spectrum.
This is not folksy, pleasant, acoustic music. It’s loud and goofy and full of drum machines and big synth noises and silly voices. The songs are short with very few running over the two-minute mark. I like it. And there are a couple of songs that my kid loves, especially opener “I Am a Clock” (“Tick tock tick tock / I am a clock…”) and “Fee Fi Fo, Fee Fi Fum,” which features a narrator in the form of a pitch-shifted mouse who goes around stealing and vandalizing until he gets busted and learns his lesson. Oh, did I mention that the mouse “raps” his lyrics? Yeah, he does. But it’s fun. And the kid thinks it’s hilarious, and he loves the drums.
The one good thing about cool bands making kids albums is that the shows they play are always in the afternoon. We haven’t had the chance to catch Robbert Bobbert play out yet, but knowing how my kid feels about floating orbs of soap, I can be pretty sure he’ll dig the Bubble Machine.
Until then, I might have to find out how he responds to a little Fun Trick Noisemaker…
Stream the whole album:
Robert Schneider’s “Robbert Bobbert” kids character is being developed into a television series by Puny Entertainment, the animation team behind Nickelodeon’s hit kids show “Yo Gabba Gabba“, and Creative Producer Carolyn Suzuki, who has developed and produced hits for the Disney Channel and Cartoon Network.