If I were on my deathbed and could to share one last piece of knowledge with the public, it would be this: Steve Burns is not a badass. Harsh? Perhaps. Truthful? God, yes.
Upon listening to the first few minutes of Burns’ musical debut, Songs for Dustmites, it becomes apparent that the man formerly known as Blue the dog’s sidekick on Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues” kids’ show has chosen a rather unfortunate theme song as his album’s opener. The ambitious “Mighty Little Man” accurately describes Burns in title alone — he thinks he can, he thinks he can! The 5’6″ actor/singer/luckiest boy in the world attempts to prove his musical ability on Songs for Dustmites by layering pseudo-mysterious vocals over twelve suspiciously perfect and complete compositions.
The songs, created with the help of Flaming Lips members Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins and produced by Dave Fridmann, are so completely layered that not a single drop of musical depth can be added to the youthful pieces. Burns has found a pleasant sound, but that’s precisely the problem: Drozd’s and Ivins’s contributions to the album just help Burns sound more like the Flaming Lips.
Before hearing this collection of wholesome goodness, I joined other former “Blue’s Clues” fans in anticipation of Songs for Dustmites. After all, Steve had become the best part of Nick Jr. in the late ’90s, and was replaced by a fictional relative (the aesthetically pleasing Joe, for those who haven’t kept up) in order to pursue a singing career in the Real World.
With all the hype he received as a result of being a human cartoon character, his first album was bound to be disappointing. The guy does know his way around a guitar, which is particularly apparent in the scarily childlike “Maintain.” But every time he utters a word of “deep” lyrical content, he wavers back and forth between inspirational Clay Aiken-esque emotion (minus the church-like, show-tune quality) and a low, raspy voice (a disguise for a lack of vocal range).
Burns’ voice merely takes away from the quality of his music. And frankly, were it not for the Flaming Lips-ish bells and echoes that sound throughout the album, Songs for Dustmites would probably get lost in the sea of repetitive adult contemporary music that has dominated pop charts for more than a decade. Unfortunately, those bells and echoes only carry so much weight.
The best songs are the soothing acoustic ballad “>1” and the painfully short “Music for Montgomery County, Pa.,” which provides a minute-long break from Burns’s mediocre voice. The singer-songwriter best sums up his place on “What I Do On Saturday.” It opens with the line, “I’m just a boring example of everybody else.” Quite the intuitive one, Steve.
Burns probably won’t last long as a musician, but he has made a decent effort to create a solid, complete album. Given the choice between acting and singing, I would point out that Slippery Soap misses those long, intimate baths with his old buddy Steve. For the sake of music and “Blue’s Clues” fans alike, let’s pray that the ever-youthful actor gets over his mature phase and returns to Nickelodeon very soon.