Robert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine – Robert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine (2009, Little Monster)
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There’s a track on the Lonely Island’s Incredibad called “Shrooms” that consists of a guy repeatedly screaming “I’m on shrooms!” over what sounds like a backing track made entirely of eight-bit synths, and while I hasten to point out that there’s no direct correlation between the two, every time I listen to Robert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine, I can’t help hearing “Shrooms” in my head when it’s over. Robert Bobbert — the kids’ rock alter ego of the Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider — doesn’t get high at any point during this album, but its blend of chunky, analog-sounding synths and bright, bouncy vocals is cut from similar musical cloth.
Of course, this is probably not the sort of comparison Schneider was hoping for — and actually, Robert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine takes some pretty obvious cues from more kid-friendly sources, such as the Beach Boys, Barnes & Barnes, and They Might Be Giants. It’s an album as brightly colored as its artwork — which, as you can see, is pretty darn bright.
Things start off with “I Am a Clock,” a wonderfully bouncy introduction filled with ticks, tocks, dings, and dongs — get your mind out of the gutter — that sets the Day-Glo tone for the rest of the record. Schneider keeps things moving with “We R Super Heroes,” all buzzy synths, cartoony vocals, and beautiful harmonies, and “Hey Little Puppy,” an uptempo tip of the hat to early Beach Boys with some cool surf guitar that gets in and out under two minutes. In fact, the album doesn’t hit its first bum note until its fourth track, “Fee Fi Fo, Fee Fi Fum,” an annoyingly cute kiddie rap number that sounds like something Dr. Demento might play on an off night.
Fortunately, things get back on track quickly: “Gravity” is a fun two-minute pop song about physics, “Little Duck” combines another perky arrangement with layered vocals and cool synths, and “Boom Boom” is a TMBG-style instrumental; the toy stomp of “Mighty Mighty Elephant” and the slightly punky “Laughing” (both under two minutes in length) are also a lot of fun. “I Love the Animals” is rather grating, but “A Tiny Sheep” closes out the album with a sweet, slightly wobbly lullaby.
As you may have noticed, many of The Bubble Machine‘s tracks are pretty short — the longest one clocks in at 2:35, and quite a few of them are less than two minutes, with the shortest one only a minute and 13 secconds long. For grown-up pop fans, that kind of brevity smacks of laziness, but for younger ears, it’s pretty perfect; rather than trying to make kids’ music that parents will enjoy, Schneider builds this album around what his target audience will enjoy, and makes only slight concessions for older listeners. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for something you can rock in the van while the little ones are at school, but for a brief, fun interlude the whole family can enjoy together, you could certainly do much worse than Robert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine