They Might Be Giants
For some reason I find it incredibly hard to review this inexplicably awesome album. I want to write more than just “adverb-ly adjective” (e.g.: “delightfully quirky,” “amusingly creepy,” “inexplicably awesome”), but when I try to come up with something more, um, profound, I run into a metaphorical brick wall. It’s like John Flansburgh and John Linnell opened up my skull, implanted this album, and then ran away laughing into the night. Each song’s catchy tune and almost (but not quite) nonsense lyrics have embedded themselves into my consciousness, despite the fact that I “discovered” this album after repeated listenings of Flood and Lincoln. I just like this album, much like I just liked those other two early albums; I have no rational reason why.
I mean, I could make up a story about how, after a first listening in college in 1993, I instantly fell in love, but that truly isn’t the case. I don’t like admitting this now, but when I first heard this album back then, I found that it was both easy and hard to listen to. I wanted to compare “Absolutely Bill’s Mood” to Napoleon XIV’s “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” for example, but the former song wasn’t really just quirky for the sake of being quirky. I mean, I guess you COULD listen to it that way if you wanted to, but you’d do so to your detriment. There’s something more to it, something… else that’s hard for me to describe. I had to just let the album wash over me, over and over again. It wasn’t long before “Don’t Let’s Start” and “Everything Right is Wrong Again” had wormed their way into my brain and I was singing them to myself at lunch in the cafeteria, getting strange looks and knowing nods from those around me.
More polished sound, same unexplainable popularity? I guess? I still find it hard to explain why I like any They Might Be Giants’ album; there’s just something about them. The quirk, the unassuming manner in which that quirk is presented, almost without gimmick (if that even makes sense). This is a band that writes songs in a serious way about subjects that make little sense. In a way, that’s what separates them from bands like Flight of the Conchords, who seem to be very self-aware of their quirk and play it up. (Full disclosure: I love FotC for similar and yet slightly different reasons. However, those reasons matter little in a review about another band; if/when Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement write and release another album, you’ll hear those reasons.)
Still, it’s safe to say that this latest effort from the Johns is quite possibly their most musical to date. They seem to have matured musically over the past 25 years without losing that essential They Might Be Giants… feeling. “Never Knew Love” could be an instant radio hit if not for the slightly creepy vibe I get from it (unless I’m missing the point). “Judy Is Your Viet Nam” could have been released about 10 albums ago. And “Canajoharie” is, well, just listen.
Verdict: If you’re at all like me, you’ll love both of these albums for reasons unknown or, at least, reasons you’ll have difficulty articulating. Of course, if you’re at all like me, you’ll have all of the albums in between. Hell, you probably submitted a video to them for the song “Can’t Keep Johnny Down.” Too bad they didn’t pick it, but I think you did a great job anyway.