Introduction: And now for something completely different!
Seriously after dealing with the edgy rock Celldweller for the past three weeks, I need a good palette cleanser. I like the edgy stuff and all, but sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming in all the bad ways. So this week, I’m going to explore an artist that has no edge, but isn’t really overly sappy either (I hate pure sap). So welcome to the first review of the down to earth Scatman John as we explore his most iconic songs.
Scatman John – Welcome to Scatland (6): Let’s start this album off with the short piano (and bird?) based intro that welcomes the listener to the wonderous utopian paradise that is Scatland… Scatman’s World? I’m not sure. The terminology keeps on changing, but they sound like the same place from what I’m hearing here.
Like I said, Scatland is a utopian paradise, a land in which many of the divisive conflicts of modern day have been eliminated. It’s an ideal dream that should be strived for. Is it possible? Well we’re a couple decades past Scatman John’s career and I am unfortunately not seeing the idea of Scatland taking hold yet. For now, it’s still just a dream.
A dream we must strive for.
Scatman John – Scatman’s World (6.75): And we’re already at the title track of the album, as well as one of the most iconic tracks. Now, a lot of Scatman’s songs have a bit of a similar style so I shan’t be too long in the instrumental analysis for many of these songs. In fact, even here I shan’t be long. It’s an upbeat pop song with some simple melodies and the rise and fall of some arp in the background (almost sounds like acid, but I could be totally off base). Oh, and there’s some pads too, but outside of a couple of exceptions, pads are never really interesting to talk about. This isn’t one of those exceptions.
As for the vocals, Scatman is most known for certain sections of his songs that are a bit less lyrical than others. That’s right, I’m talking about the scatsinging. It’s in the name. All the names. Artist name! Album name! Song name! Well, that last one is pretty obvious because it’s the titular track of the album, but there’s 4 other songs with the word “scat” in the title so it’s not like this is the only occurrence. And while these sections are meaningless, they are quite fun. I am not ashamed to admit that at least half of the enjoyment of singing along with Scatman’s songs is the scatsinging, even if some parts in more complex songs (this one is pretty simple) are impossible for the average human being.
But even with his superhuman scatsinging abilities, John here still brings his songs down to earth to convey some authentic human messages. They are in no way existential or edgy like the mindbending thought experiments that is Mind.in.a.box or the tortuous edginess that I’ve reviewed from Ashbury Heights’ and Celldweller’s early works. Instead they convey an idealistic world that displays the innermost human desire for what kind of world they want to live in. Well, at least this is the type of the world I want to live in. And while we’re not living in that world yet, I do think that working towards that world can result in a more enjoyable life. Don’t hold back your turmoil and let it eat you up inside. Express yourself. Allow others to help you through life. And help others if need be. I mean, this probably sounds like some cheesy hippie rambling, and in a way, that is what a lot of Scatman’s lyrics focus on.
But if a message of hoping for and striving for peace and happiness in a world that seems to deny it is frowned upon, then that’s not a world I want to live in.
I’d rather live in Scatman’s world.
Scatman John – Only You (6.25): Again, Scatman adapts the upbeat fun vibe that will be the focus for a good 80% of this album. This one does kick the music up a notch with the song bouncing back and forth with a bouncy piano melody in the majority of the song, while giving it a slight break for the slight groove of a bassline to be spotlit in the verses. I wouldn’t say either part of this song is exceptionally stellar, but it still gives me a slight bit of nostalgia even though I hadn’t actually grown up with this song. My guess is that it reminds me a bit of one of my childhood games (Blinx: the Time Sweeper), but that’s a very loose reminder that probably comes from the arp I hadn’t mentioned yet. Something about it is just the right flavor to activate that memory in my brain.
Cryptic nostalgia aside, Only You is one of the few songs in this album that present a slightly different message than the aim for utopia. Instead we’re looking at a love song… I’m quite surprised that this is the first real love song we’ve seen in any of my reviews. Yes, there’s been plenty of toxic love songs in Ashbury Heights’ and Celldweller’s early discographies (as antitheses to Scatman John, I can see myself mentioning these two a lot in this review), but Scatman here is actually giving us a real wholesome love song, filled with a good ammount of adoration without dipping into addictive obsession, and an overall feeling of unconditional love directed towards the soul rather than the outward appearances. And all of it is well appreciated. Is this song for me. No, not really. I’m drawn to the more introspective stuff, but that doesn’t really detract from this song’s quality.
Not a huge fan of the slang “mama” though. I understand that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it in the song’s time period and its aim is to be endearing, but something about it just rubs me the slightly wrong way.
Scatman John – Quiet Desperation (5.5): So, after two upbeat songs that follow Scatman’s iconic style we have Quiet Desperation, a song that prides itself on a slower pace. There’s a soft syncopated drumbeat backing this track up, but it doesn’t reach the hight tempos of the dance songs that much of this album has. This is one to sit back and relax to. A little bit of simple piano here and there. A touch of trumpet for some melodic flavor. And of course, a nice bit of scatsinging that’s intrinsic to any Scamtan John song. Some might have more scatsinging than others, but they all have at least something in the language of “Scattish.”
This song’s focus forgoes singing of the fun of scatting one’s way to happiness and instead follows the life of a homeless person that John sees on the side of the road. Not the most uplifting theme. The song’s title refers to the plight of the homeless as he lives his life on the street, just getting by day to day.
The message of this song is a bit odd to say the least. Much of the song is spent painting the plight of the homeless. Desperately grasping at the little money that passersby provide. Longing for a place to call home but instead feeling empty inside. Trying to convince one’s self that this nightmare of desperation is only a temporary passing and that it isn’t nearly as bad as he thinks it is. It’s not really an uplifting situation.
And yet, Scatman seems to find something in this homeless person that reminds him of something that he’d lost. And I really wish I could tell you for certain what he meant by that, but I just don’t know. What has Scatman lost? Has he lost his focus on what really matters in life beyond the material he has? This one doesn’t quite feel right. The homeless person does desire a home and it’s perfectly reasonable to want at least a simple livable piece of shelter. Maybe it’s more about their similarities of feeling lost and empty, how they’ve both lost something to get them to their similar states of emptiness. But I feel like there needs to be more details for that one to work…
Overall, the song sounds pretty good, but the lyrics end up falling flat due to inconsistency… unless I’m missing something. If I figure out what this song is missing, I might come back and raise the score, but for now… eh
Scatman John – Scatman (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop) (8.25): And now, complete with some emotional whiplash from the last song, we have the most iconic Scatman song of all… Scatman! If you know Scatman at all, then you know this one. I’m not sure if I can say that about very many artists and their highlight song. But Scatman John’s Scatman (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop) pretty much defines his career. Yes, Scatman’s World is quite popular too, but most of his other songs seem to fall to the wayside. But there are definitely reasons this song is so icinoic.
First off, the simplicity of the name and its similarity to the artist, Scatman John, makes it clear that this song, from the beginning, was meant to be the iconic song for Scatman. His very name is the title of the song. But then there’s the second part of that title (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop). Absolutely false advertising. Well, the first part of the chorus does seem to follow the subtitle of the song quite similarly, but This simple string of syllables is nothing compared to the plethora and variety of scatsinging that is actually on this song. From the tongue twisting intro to the second half of the scat singing chorus to the absolutely impossible rapid buzzing that the man does in the song’s bridge. I’ve tried to imitate that zah- zah-zeyah portion to no avail. Scatman John is something else entirely. Really, the music is the simplest of dance tracks to be used on the album, but that just allows the scatsinging to take the center stage.
And this song didn’t have to have a good message to it, but it really does have a good focus on not defining yourself by your weaknesses, and instead pushing forward to follow your dreams and desires. Perhaps even using one’s weakness to their advantage. In Scatman’s case, he had an issue with stuttering ever since he was a child, and his life was all the more difficult because of it. He was bullied for his stuttering as a child. While he was eventually able to use his passion for learning music as an escape from his stuttering, he first used it as a front to hide his stuttering. Scatman is the song in which he bravely stepped out and use his talents and passion for music to sing this song despite his fears of his stuttering. He may have never been able to get rid of his stuttering, but he didn’t need to get rid of his weakness in order to be successful. Instead, he turned it into a strength.
This song is John Larkin’s life set to music and while it’s not my favorite from him, it is well deserving of his most popular song.
Scatman John – Sing Now! (7.25): Sing Now! brings us back to the dreams of a better world, Scatman’s World, a utopia worth striving for. But before I dive into the lyrics of international happiness, I do want to highlight the music as it really feels extra 90s this time. I can definitely hear it in that constant bouncy bassline that accompanies the drumbeat. There are a few other 90s dance melodies, but it’s really the bassline that stands out to me.
But Scatman’s strength is always his scatsinging and message. The scatsinging is on point as usual as it fills the instrumental portions in between the choruses and the verses with an extra feeling of joy and celebration. A celebration worth singing about. Sing now! dreams of a world where war has ceased, where division has disappeared, a peace and unity have taken their place. Oh, it’s a sappy idea to be certain and considering my usual distaste for sap, I should hate this song, but I just can’t. There’s something so sincere about the way Scamtan John sings this song, that I feel as if the sap can be ignored in favor of an uplifting message about the dream of peace come true, not by waiting for it to happen, but by stepping up and making it happen. We create or own happy ending.
The sun will only rise on our lives if we let it.
Scatman John – Popstar (6.5): Popstar takes a step back to a calmer vibe. Not quite the same calm as Quiet Desperation, Song of Scatland or Everything Changes. Just calmer in comparison to the songs around it. What makes this stick out a tiny bit from the other calmer tracks is the little funky bounce it has. Not too much to remark about the music of this song except that bassline which really fits the whole tone it sounds like Scatman has been going for in these lyrics.
And what do I think of those lyrics? Well I used to hate them. When I’d first listened to this album, I’d quickly decided that this was my least favorite song of the bunch and much of that has to do with the song’s message. Or rather, it has to do with what the song’s message appeared to be. Because up until the last minute and a half of this song, the entire song is just endless bragging about being a hip and cool popstar. And it’s so self-centered and annoying that it just doesn’t fit the theme of the rest of the album in the slightest. Clearly, I wasn’t listening to that last little bit of the final verse, where Scatman says that everything he’s said up until this point in the song is a joke and how the whole status of a popstar doesn’t matter. All that matters is you. And that is a good message but it was lost on me once I started to tune out the bragging the first few times I listened. So, the twist was alright in the end, but I feel like a twist would be more powerful if it took a good song and made it great rather than taking a bad song and making it good. Thankfully Scatman will prove such a twist is possible later, but that’s for another review.
Scatman John – Time (Take Your Time) (8): And now this is some good upbeat funky Scatman. The slight funky of Popstar was nice, but this song is able to get just as much groove here with a much better upbeat tempo, immediately rendering Popstar obsolete as far as the music goes. Yes, a clock is supposed to tick 60 times a minute, but the BPM of this song is at least double that, bringing the whole drive to the fastest Scatman has ever done. The melodies aren’t too much to speak of, but the bassline is exceptionally better than Popstar’s and that one was already quite good. Most of the song it resides in the background with all the scatsinging and quick drumbeat giving the song a subtle but quite noticeable drive to it, but there are points like midway through the second verse where the bassline reaches the front for a rapidly paced breakdown. This combined with scatsinging more fast paced than even the more iconic Scatman (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop), makes this easily the most energetic song on the album.
And the basslines and scatsinging aren’t the only things running rapidfire in this song. The lyrical sections of the song are also jampacked with words so quickly expressed that makes deciphering this song quite impossible. Clearly he’s repeatedly saying “Take your Time” in the chorus, but he certainly isn’t taking his time enunciating every last line in the verses because the rest of the lyrics are completely up in the air, as both the lyrics I’m hearing on my own and the lyrics I’m looking up on the internet make very little sense outside of the fact that they are indeed words. So, can I tell you exactly what this song’s about? Well from what I can put together, the tone seems to suggest getting caught up in trying to figure out the chaos of existence, flipping frantically through an imaginary handbook of how to live life, while also juggling every single problem that hurdles your way.
Sometimes, you just need to take your time.
Or maybe it’s something else and I’m mixing up my lyrical extraction and my self-projection again. Who knows?
Scatman John – Mambo Jambo (6): And now, in between two of the most meaningful songs on the album we have Mambo Jambo. This one means nothing. I mean the lyrics are all about doing the Mambo Jambo, which is a play on words using Mambo, a Latin dance, and Mumbo Jumbo, a ritual intending to confuse. And it works because I am bobbing my head which is sort of dancing. I am also confused. It’s all scatsinging and the call to dance in bewilderment.
Yeah, I’m not going to analyze these lyrics. This song is clearly just meant for fun.
And the music only makes it clearer that fun is the goal. It’s a bit repetitive with nothing but a drumbeat with a slight jungle vibe and a harmonica. There’s a small bit of variety with the piano and its build two thirds through the song which gives it a nice little break from the scatsinging jungle harmonica. So that makes it my favorite part of the song. And besides this song is rather short so it doesn’t really overstay its welcome.
Scatman John – Everything Changes (8.5): And now for the best of the best. It takes a step back from the upbeat Scatman and instead focuses on feeling a little bit more laidback. Feels like elevator jazz with it’s simple nonintrusive chill vibe. A few soothing melodies and one little trumpet or saxophone solo. For someone obsessed with music, I’m afraid I have troubles telling a good trumpet from a saxophone sometimes. But both are good, so it doesn’t really affect my enjoyment all that much (pretty sure this one’s a trumpet though).
The lyrics of this song are the true highlight though. Everything truly does change. I’ve expressed this before, especially in my Mind.in.a.box reviews, but in case you don’t know or need a refreshing of memory, change is the central point of my worldview. Society and the people who make it up are constantly changing. And even looking at myself, the person I am is constantly changing. I see the world around me and see myself trying to strengthen my emotional fortitude while still trying to maintain the empathy that I hold dear to myself (though interestingly I don’t aim such empathy at myself, have to work on that).
But sometimes, it’s a bit too easy to get wrapped up in the constantly changing world and overworry about what the unknown future may bring. And so, the central message of this song declaring that sometimes it’s best to look at the present and live in that moment is quite a refreshing message of easing the stress of the future. I feel I definitely need this and I’m pretty sure there’s several people in the world that could use this line of thinking on occasion as well.
Scatman John – Song of Scatland (6.75): And for the last relaxing song on the album (the next two are quite upbeat), we have the ultimate depiction of Scatman’s utopia: Scatland. With a simple piano melody and a very smooth and soothing bassline, this song proves to be the most relaxing of them all. There’s a few other instruemnts, particularly the synth in the second verse and the sax in the instrumental bridge that contribute to the smooth relaxing vibe that brings the peaceful atmosphere to Scatland. But it’s the lyrics that prove to be most important to this song in particular.
Anyways, back to Scatland. If we look at the earlier more popular song, it seems that this land is located on Scatman’s World. Kind of like how the capital of Oklahoma is Oklahoma City, but on a larger scale. Plus, it’s also a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy worth striving for as usual. There are quite some interesting moments in this song detailing the way Scatland works, particularly the language of Scattish (not quite like a leprechaun), and the directions to Scatland (give yourself a hug and love yourself (which I have a hard time doing to be brutally honest)). And all of it does sound indeed like a paradise to strive for. It’s a bit sappy and I do find it to oversimplify the problems of this world a tiny bit, but’s still a good sentimental song.
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Scatman John – Scatman (Game Over Jazz) (8): You know, these last two songs on this album are just about having a good ol’ fun time. I… can’t quite remember what I said for the last song. I think I blacked out… But knowing me, it must have been completely articulate and some good song analysis. But that song is already in the past, we’ve got to live in the moment of this song right here. This one is a remix of the famous ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop that defines Scatman’s career, and while it doesn’t quite match up in meaning to the original version (the verses are completely absent, it’s just the scatsinging), it definitely makes up for it with the absolutely amazing funky jazz it has. The groove that bassline provides throughout the song definitely helps give the song a nice bounce to it and the rest of the instruments make this song work flawlessly with the jazz. Scatman’s vocals are a special instrument of their own that fit quite well with the piano. And of course, there’s the brass that steals the spotlight. I, once again, am not fully certain if this is a saxophone or a really good trumpet, but right now, I’m actually leaning towards the saxophone. Either way, this song is great jam to conclude Scatman John’s debut album.
Conclusion: Scatman is quite different from any of the artists I’ve reviewed. The era, genre and overall mood are completely alien to any song I’ve reviewed in the first half of this year. I can’t really hold my taste to omne area to be honest and while I do usually ten to the edgier songhs, there is something refreshing with the occasional more uplifting song. Scatman does seem like he should be one of those sappy artists I hate, but there’s something so sincere and authentic about the way he presents his optimism that really sweeps me up into a temporary elation of humanity’s potential. Of course, in iorder to harness this potential and embrace the utopia Scatman presents we all will have to commit a lot of effort to creating it. But I like to believe that it is possible, despite the chaos in the present, that we can find peace in the future.
That we can find Scatman’s World.
Final Score: 7/10