An occupational hazard of reviewing records is the deadline need to squeeze perceptions out of three or four listens. Not so this time. Bob the Builder and I know each other very well. After a visit to England in the summer of 2001, my family came home with videos of the TV show and an audiotape including the No. 1 U.K. hit “Can We Fix It?,” a housed-up version of the theme song. Our sons, five and two, made the song their mantra until the arrival of the actual Bob the Builder CD, which showed our car stereo no mercy.
Bob the Builder, the album, wears better than Barney or the Music Together tapes, maybe because of the English music-hall proclivity for character-based songs (Spud the scarecrow is hopelessly daft, Bob’s assistant Wendy is spunky and thus able to be made into a monkey, etc.) or producer Grant Mitchell’s comfort with disco, which keeps things moving when you’re passing bagels into the backseat. Maybe it’s the talking vehicles, or the cover of Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy.” But the album is pretty great—I like a bit of theater when the BPMs stay above 110, and I can sing almost every song on here. If you aren’t a parent, granted, your interaction with Bob is limited. He will nonetheless rock you with this revelation: England is different from America.
Narrowly beating out All Saints’ “Pure Shores,” the aerobic “Can We Fix It?” was the best-selling single in the U.K. in 2000. The optimism of the lyrics is positively Churchillian: “Bob the Builder! Can we fix it? Bob the Builder! Yes we can!” Isotope-like once lodged in the brain, it is still a kid song, and until Carson invites Bob to freestyle on TRL, no kid song is getting onto the charts here. European TV and radio are heterogeneous on the axes of both genre and age: English pop stars hang onto their 15 minutes for decades and kids who aren’t just miniature teenagers get a shot. (Harry Potter—not American.) Nick Jr. will pump the Bob TV show and Toys R Us will move lots of merch, but the album is a long shot. Clear Channel and MTV’s double headlock on free pop music has programmed the commercial viewfinder to recognize everyone between age 12 and 21 and not a person more. The exception is pop country, which is what Bob would be trading in if Koch and the BBC had their ducks in a row. Or Bob could bless a Neptunes track, which sounds like kids’ music to begin with. That’s a compliment around here.