On his first album after returning from his self-imposed hiatus on recording new material, singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton draws upon the lessons of the Johns and Jonathans who have come before him on Artificial Heart. The first John is They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh, who has the distinction of being the first person, other than Coulton himself, to handle the production on one of his albums. Right out of the blocks, the album opener, “Sticking It to Myself,” makes the hand of Flansburgh immediately apparent with a song that has that perfect mix of eclecticism and solid pop songcraft upon which the TMBG man has made his name. Despite this, the album doesn’t come off like Coulton’s audition reel for a spot in They Might Be Giants, as the songwriter deftly injects a lot of his own personality into the songs through his lyrics. This brings us to the influential Jonathan, Jonathan Richman, who Coulton -- with his ability to see the wonder, humor, and sadness in the mundane world -- feels like a spiritual successor to. This quality allows Coulton to create songs that are more like little poignant slices of life than pop constructions, breathing that spark of life into songs like “Glasses.” As an album, Artificial Heart is like a panopticon that gives the listener the opportunity to observe an array of different lives, and offers them the chance to feel a little something different while peering into each window. And even though it’s a more emotionally heavy album than a lot of his previous work, Coulton still knows how to leave people with a smile, ending the album with two new versions of his famous Portal and Portal 2 theme songs “Still Alive” (featuring a guest spot from Tegan and Sara’s Sara Quin) and “Want You Gone” (which features JoCo himself on vocals) as well as “The Stache,” a touching tribute to mustaches and the men who proudly wear them. With this kind of effortless versatility and easy charm, it’s no wonder Jonathan Coulton has managed to find a special place in people's hearts, artificial or otherwise.
AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney