One of the most prolific songwriting duos around, They Might Be Giants prove that once again they can successfully go back and forth between humorous parody and sincere songs, sometimes within the same track, across a number of different genres, and still be clever and catchy. And all this in their spare time between recording TV themes, songs for movies, and critically-acclaimed albums for children.
At 18 tracks, there’s no shortage of variety, and the band certainly seem to have a passion for trying unusual song ideas, as every song has at least one feature which makes it unusual or unique. ‘The Lady and The Tiger’, for example, sounds like a hip-hop song played on electronic instruments with a story and structure from prog rock. To name a few more: the lyrics of ‘2082’ hint at a story involving immortality and time travel, ‘Cloisonné’ is named after a technique for decorating metalwork, and includes a dialogue between a man and a rain drop, and ‘Celebration’ seems to sample the sound of a spoon hitting a glass.
These little kinks are most effective when they utilise the dual lead vocals of the band’s frontmen John Linnell and John Flansburgh, like on ‘Protagonist’, where one John sings the lead and the other recites stage directions. ‘Spoiler Alert’ involves both singers talking over each other, to reflect the theme of the lyrics: each reciting the thoughts of an inattentive driver, until the inevitable occurs.
The stand-out track, without competition, is the opening track ‘Can’t Get Johnny Down’, which in only 2 minutes and 21 seconds effectively conveys the message that never letting your guard down turns you into a douchebag, through an upbeat light-hearted rock-out.
This is not, unfortunately, the album that will bring They Might Be Giants mainstream appeal, but with so much deliberate out-of-the-box songwriting, this is obviously not a goal for them. And with a couple of Grammys for their TV and children’s work, a worldwide fanbase, and presumably some paycheques to match, why would they ever want something as tacky and artless as mainstream success anyway?