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SpongeBob isn't just new wave

September 24, 2006|Geoff Boucher;Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

THINK of the ambitious new concept album as a sillier, squishier version of the Beach Boys' pop masterwork -- sort of a "Wet Sounds" for the 21st century.

The CD's official title is "The Best Day Ever" and, like the Who's "Tommy," it revolves around a beleaguered hero who speaks to a generation. In this case, it's not a pinball wizard, but a stubby, lemon-colored poriferan named SpongeBob SquarePants.

It's funny business, to be sure, but the musicians on board are to be taken seriously.

Among them: Brian Wilson, Tommy Ramone, genre-bending cult-favorite NRBQ, Tex-Mex accordion icon Flaco Jimenez, singer Mandy Barnett, acclaimed guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member James Burton and multi-instrumentalist Corky Hale, whose career credits include playing with Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.

The album (which came out last week) is the brainchild of Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, and songwriter-producer Andy Paley, who has worked with Madonna, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wilson and many others.

For Kenny, it was a way to become part of the ongoing chronicles of Bikini Bottom; he's been sitting in on the story meetings for the show for years but not doing any of the writing.

"With this, I really got inside the characters and what drives and what makes them who they are," Kenny said. There was a long pause, then he added: "Oh, God, I sound like Billy Corgan. Look, I hate when people take cartoons seriously, but with this...."

Serious is a subjective word here -- one track is titled "My Tighty Whiteys," after all. But it's a show that works on many levels, which might explain why Kenny and Paley were able to get Wilson and the rest in the studio to lend a hand. The conceit of the album is a day in the life of underwater radio station WH2O where DJ Al Bacore (voiced by old-school Philadelphia radio personality Jerry Blavat) is at the mike, highlighting hits from the No. 1 album under the sea, the new release by SpongeBob and the Hi-Seas, an Archies-style creation.

It's sort of like that 1987 Roger Waters concept album "Radio K.A.O.S." ... except this time the only hint of global politics is the world domination plans of Sheldon J. Plankton and his tune "You Will Obey!" (It features a solo by Burton, whose resume now includes gigs with Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson and a microscopic evil genius.)

Paley said the radio-show format was necessary. "We could have done a play or something," he said, "but kids and stoners don't have the attention span to listen to something that long." Well, there you go.

The main characters on the show get chances at the microphone and the styles veer wildly; there's a 1960s Yardbirds-leaning tune, a send-up of a Gene Pitney emotive ballad and a nod to the Ramones. For Kenny, the highlight was being coached by Wilson, who also sings backup on one song. "I was standing there thinking, 'Brian Wilson is producing us.'

"I want this be successful ... but no matter what, I still have that memory."

**

Rhino digs deep into funk vault

Rhino Records' "What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves" compilation (which comes out Oct. 3) isn't simply one of the most expansive compendiums of choice funk cuts to be released this decade.

Its 91 tracks, culled from the vaults of Atlantic, Atco and Warner Bros. Records, span funk's Age of Aquarius heyday: 1967-77. And the four-CD set unearths many a forgotten funk nugget from mostly obscure or out-of-print artists, such as Rasputin's Stash, Ananda Shankar and Black Heat.

But a closer listen will reward beat junkies with the source material for some of hip-hop and trip-hop's seminal songs. Beck, King Tee, the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, DJ Shadow, EPMD and N.W.A have all plundered songs on "What It Is!" for samples.

Chris Lee

**

Imagine Moby, unplugged

Moby has become America's poster boy for midtempo electronica. But as of this month, don't try to contact him through electronic mail anymore. He's attempting a three-month hiatus from e-mail and the Internet after grousing on his blog (moby.com/journal) that being online gobbles up the better part of his days. "I receive between 200 and 400 e-mails a day, and spend way too much time online reading news, etc.," he wrote earlier this month.

Three days into his vow of Web abstinence, however, the siren call of the blogosphere proved to be too much. "I've lapsed a couple of times for work, etc. I'm an apostate," Moby wrote on the blog. "I don't know. I'll let you know how the experiment progresses."

-- Chris Lee

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