While Mike Doughty has had a pretty successful solo career for over a decade now, his former band Soul Coughing has always been something of a sore subject, a topic he explored in his 2012 memoir, The Book of Drugs. Given the toxic relationships described by Doughty in the book, it comes as no surprise that the singer/songwriter would be reluctant to revisit that period of his career despite the urging of his fans who came along for the ride based on his earlier work. In an effort to reclaim his past work, Doughty returns with Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless…, an album that finds the songwriter recasting his past work in the image he had originally intended, free from the unwelcome meddling of his Soul Coughing bandmates. Though Doughty's lyricism remains, as always, brilliant, the new backing tracks found on Circles Super Bon Bon don't hold up as well, often times feeling more dated than the original versions from almost 20 years ago. Part of the charm of the originals was the feeling of a live band playing what should have been electronic music. Songs like the original version of "Mr. Bitterness" eschewed the gloss of electronica and house production in favor of a more organic, ramshackle sound, adding an element of uncertainty to a world of sequenced synths and programmed beats. When Doughty remakes the same song with a mixture of acoustic guitar and a polished, lockstep beat, the separation between the two worlds is noticeable. By aligning these decades-old tracks with the original vision he had for them, Doughty ends up with a new album that feels… well… old. Given the hostility Doughty feels toward this period of his artistic life that everyone else seems to like, the desire to revisit these songs on his own terms is an understandable one. Unfortunately, the bar set by these songs was an awfully high one, so although the creation of Circles… was no doubt a cathartic experience, the songs here aren't likely to become the first choice for any old-school Soul Coughing lovers.
AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney