Kathryn Williams, one of the most exciting talents in folk music, and Anna Spencer from the decidedly un-child-friendly sounding punk band, Delicate Vomit, have spotted a gap in the market.� Any parent who has had to endure endless hours of the albums available for children should be jumping for joy.
Having decided that the music available for children was pretty damn awful, the duo set about creating songs for kids that had a bit of substance to them both musically and lyrically. The days of having to suffer the Teletubbies, Bob The Builder, and Lily the chuffing Pink on excruciating car journeys could be made slightly fewer as a result.
They’ve attempted to mix up styles throughout their album, Playing Out: Songs For Children And Robots , so while there are a few fairly familiar sounding forays into folk – such as The Spooky Way Home and Rainy Day – there are a few nice surprises too.
Disco Teeth for example is a quirky spin on the brushing-teeth oeuvre. It grabs basics of the wheels on the bus and couples them with an unexpected scattering of beats as the duo extol the virtues of toothpaste.
Sweet On The Floor is a delicate paean to the plight of discarded confectionary. It’s a sorrowful, string-led number; the sadness that greets the vision of the hairy inedible sweetie is palpable. It’s also worth bearing in mind the sage advice at the heart of the song: “Turn away, don’t look at it no more, cos you can’t eat that sweet on the floor.” This is something that adults as well as children should bear in mind – the five second rule doesn’t work, you know.
The squelchy disco pop of Let’s Dance On The Moon could easily have come from a Eurodisco compilation. With an array of futuristic sounds mixed with something approaching lo-fi funk, the older listener could well be reminded of the theme tune of the long forgotten show Let’s Pretend.
If the album falls down anywhere it’s in that the songs aren’t as immediate as perhaps they should be. Children like an instant payoff. It’s one of the reasons they like the mindless repetition of Bob The Builder. There’s not an awful lot in the way of instant hooks or pop catchiness on the album that will appeal to children with short attention spans, and that might be where it fails in its primary purpose. This key principle was not lost on Candyskins songwriter Nick Cope when he ventured into similar territory with his songs for kids, but The Crayonettes seem to have missed a trick: they lack directness.
That said, Songs for Children and Robots is infinitely preferable to a wealth of saccharine alternatives. The low-key garage rock of Pirates On The Bus, or the glitchy dance of Hopscotch should keep kids entertained for just about long enough, while their parents can enjoy the references to the Velvet Underground and David Bowie that provide the framework for these songs. Songs For Children And Robots is a bit of a missed opportunity, but good fun nonetheless.