Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Wiggles: Getting Strong and Wiggly Wiggly World

If you've followed this blog at all, you'll know that I am an unabashed fan of The Wiggles. Musically speaking, I think they're terrific, with many great songs that introduce young kids to a variety of music styles. Say what you will about them otherwise, but they can really deliver the goods when it comes to their songs being memorable and fun for younger children, and I believe that they have rightfully achieved their enormous success as children's entertainers.

The Wiggles have always primarily been a visual band, what with the colored shirt thing and all, and so they have usually emphasized video releases over CD releases. Their latest is a DVD called Getting Strong, which is unique in two ways; it is the first from a planned Wiggle and Learn series that has a particularly educational focus, and it is also the first with the new yellow Wiggle, Sam.

I'm not going to speak too much about the video's merits... I want to focus on the music... but it definitely has the best production values of any Wiggles video I've seen. Top notch effects and sets and it looks really sharp, which hasn't always been the case with other Wiggles videos (not that they've suffered for it, but you kind of expect more from them,
considering their success). Some of the between song skits, such as the recurring theme of Captain Feathersword pretending to be among a group of trumpeters or guitarists or ballet dancers are okay and some are a bit tedious. Paul Paddock (Captain F.) has an amazing vocal range and ability to do impressions, but the high-pitched squeals of his guitar impressions (I honestly don't know how he gets up there without helium) can wear a bit on the ears of adults. But that's nothing new for Wiggles videos... their skits and between song interludes have never been the greatest at appealing to adults, no doubt. But little kids laugh at them and enjoy them alright, so that's fine.

Educationally speaking, they are clearly targeting toddlers (their bread and butter audience) with subjects that include exercise and sports ("Getting Strong", "The Sporting Salsa"),
comparative use of language ("The Biggest of All") and the five senses ("The Five Sense" and the oddly infectious "Smell Your Way Through the Day"). Perhaps it is the educational theme, but it seems that the songs have much more of a "sing songy" feel to them than previous Wiggles collections. They're not bad, as sing-songy songs go, but a lot of my favorite Wiggles songs have a little bit of rock 'n' roll to them and for the most part, these tunes don't really go there. Notable exceptions include the great title track, which is reminiscent of The Who's "I Can See for Miles and Miles", and "Sporting Salsa", which has a cool sound with a bit of a Miami Sound Machine groove to the chorus. "Smell Your Way Through the Day" has a rock feel to it and is very catchy, but it's also kind of kooky in a way.

So I'm not sure if Getting Strong is likely to convince any of the adults who grumble about the Wiggles to realize that they do have a lot of great music (see my review below about Wiggly Wiggly World for an example of that), but it's a solid collection for the kids and
answers any doubts as to whether Sam could make a good replacement for the ailing Greg. Greg always had a really smooth and unique vocal delivery, and thankfully Sam doesn't try to emulate that, but offers his own voice, which is more polished and even somewhat operatic at times, but is still a really good fit for the group's music.

The Wiggles website

Watch the "Getting Strong" video

The "Frog Went a Walking" video can be seen here, temporarily, at least.


Wiggly Wiggly World

In my original feature on The Wiggles, I said how their various video collections were kind of hit-and-miss for me. They've put out quite a few by now, and so as we've borrowed different ones from the library, we've seen some that were top notch and had a lot of great songs and others that seemed kind of thrown together. Until this past summer, we had only owned two Wiggles videos that we particularly liked, but I gave Wiggly Wiggly World a blind chance when I saw it at a library sale for a few bucks. I'm glad I did, because I think it's a terrific collection of songs, and it's particularly nice if you don't like the aforementioned skits and interludes, because they go right from one song to another, only stopping briefly to introduce a guest performer to set up the next song. And though The Wiggles can hold their own, musically, and in terms of songwriting, as evidenced by the hooks on songs like "In the Wiggles World" and "In the Big Red Car We Like to Ride", the guest performers really add a lot to this particular video.

Opera singer Kamahl performs on "Sing With Me", and it's amusing to hear his thick, profundo voice singing lines that include "Dorothy the Dinosaur", but it's quite a beautiful song, regardless. In terms of catchy pop-rock melodies and hooks, you can't beat The Wiggles' version of "Six Months in a Leaky Boat" by Tim Finn of Crowded House and Split Enz. And the gorgeous ballad "Taba Naba", performed by Greg and Christine Anu, is particularly stunning, and I love to hear my 2 year-old, Evee, attempting to sing that one. It's all in the language of the Torres Strait Islanders, and here are the real words: "Taba naba, naba norem, tugi penai siri, dinghy e naba we". As you can imagine, it comes out quite different when Evee sings it! There's also Rolf Harris playing the wobbleboard along with his classic "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" and Australian country star Slim Dusty joining in for "I Love to Have a Dance with Dorothy".

Other highlights on the video include "Another Cuppa", which has one of the best uses of counterpoint I've heard outside of musical theater, the folky "One Little Coyote", with it's cute backing vocals ("come home shooooon"), and the pretty Japanese ballad "Haru Ga Kita", sung with Atsuko Arai. All together, Wiggly Wiggly World is quite a smorgasbord of multi-cultural music, but it all sounds great with The Wiggles renditions and arrangements.

Listen to samples from Wiggly Wiggly World


mrkhmusic said...

Honestly, my favorite Kid's artists are you, Eric, and the Trout Fisher guys. And the big reason is that my kids and I BOTH love the music.

There are other artists that my kids like that grate on my nerves, and the Wiggles are pretty high on that list.

Sorry, just a second opinion!


Saints and Spinners said...

In listening to some of the tracks, I can hear where the songs themselves are good, but the arrangements are not to my taste, i.e. too much of a "jazz hands" style in the vocals and background sound effects. I wonder if the Wiggles are going to be like the Monkees in terms of how we (or rather, our kids) remember them.