Artificial Heart is the first album of new material from Jonathan Coulton since 2006. In that time he has grown from a musician who primarily appealed to a handful of code-monkeys and super-villains to a legitimate force of slightly off-kilter indie rock.
The album may be lacking in a lot of the surreal, monkey piloted giant robot, material that filled previous Coulton albums, but there is cake (no, really. I promise!). While there’s still plenty for the discerning geek, this is a much more accessible album. The folksy/indie guitar-driven rock is toe-tappingly catchy, and the lyrics are as smart as ever.
Coulton isn’t turning his back on his beginnings, but he does seem to be aware of his growing recognition. Before you cry “sell out!”, take a listen to “Sticking it to Myself,” Coulton’s good natured jab at what it means to be awesome, and how he doesn’t need your approval. Being heard by so many people who don’t really understand must be difficult, as we see in what is undoubtedly the album’s quirkiest track “Je Suis Rick Springfield.” Whether or not you speak French, you’ll have the listening advantage over people who don’t/do.
Musically, Coulton runs wild. “Today with Your Wife” is a heartfelt piano tune about spending a rainy day with another man’s wife. “Sucker Punch” takes a bit more of a punk beat and “Fraud” tastes of Baroque guitar. The album was aided greatly by production from John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, as well as a number of guest musicians (nearly every track has some outside contribution). It is these influences that helped to push Coulton beyond his previous work.
There are two tracks on Artificial Heart that feature guest vocals. “Now I Am An Arsonist” features Suzanne Vega’s lead vocals along with Coulton. The two voices perfectly encapsulate Coulton’s venturing out from his usual. Of course, one can’t ignore the song that drove Coulton into the spotlight during his hiatus/ “Still Alive,” the version on Artificial Heart is sung by Sara Quin (Tegan & Sara). This version isn’t completely robot free, the intro is played on a Theremin!
See! I told you there’d be cake!