Reviewed by Gregory Keer
Although Mick Cooke took his own sweet time to join the Scottish pop group Belle and Sebastian — he started with their third disc, 1998’s marvelous The Boy With the Arab Strap — the origin of that band is somehow linked to the work Cooke has done for his new album. It seems that B & S based their name on a 1960s French children’s book. Indeed, Belle and Sebastian have maintained an air of playfulness in their melding of classic and cutting-edge pop, and the same can be said of Cooke’s Down at the Zoo project.
While most kid albums are geared to the elementary-school crowd — and their parents who are looking for grown-up touches in the music — Down at the Zoo plays to the heart of the birth to preschool set. Filled with fantastically catchy tunes, the recording takes children on a musical tour of the zoo. Starting with “The Zookeeper’s Song,” kids are treated to a counting ditty that has a decidedly UK flair, including the Scottish-accented narration (by Richard Colburn, the drummer of B & S) and Gilbert and Sullivan-esque melody. “We Are the Tigers” is one of the most fun tracks with its B-52’s (think “Rock Lobster”) sound and the line,”We like to roam around/And eat chocolate pie.” “Yvette the Vet” uses wordplay to teach young ones about a key professional in the zoo world.
Cooke and his players borrow some tricks from the Dixieland jazz genre on “Playtime for the Penguins.” “Cecil the Saddest of Snakes” gets the lounge-act treatment in this song about a reptile who needs some cheering up. The album is never short on humor, as evidenced by “The Crocodile Synchronised Swimming Team” (a New Wave-y song about some shape-making snappers) and “The Monkeys Are Breaking Out the Zoo” (a popular track that appeared on Colours Are Brighter, the children’s album Cooke assembled with music by the likes of B & S, Franz Ferdinand, and Snow Patrol).
Down at the Zoo, already a hit in the UK, gallops, flies, and swims to our American shores with 14 tracks of preschool rhythm and rhyme. Take a break from the Wiggles and Raffi and visit this Zoo.
www.wearethetigers.com – $7.99 (download) – Ages birth to 5