Artist: "They Might be Giants"
Album: "They Might be Giants"
Genre: Alternative Rock
Reviewer: Max Burbank
Review: What does it mean that ‘They Might be Giants’ is doing Dunkin Donuts jingles? Are they past it? Is Dunkin Donuts cool now? Am I officially old? Has culture caught up with me? Is my cohort, long lost between the baby Boomers and Generation X, finally being marketed to? Did they sell out? Like their theme for “Malcolm in the Middle” the answer is “Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. Can you repeat the Question?” Johns Flansburgh and Linnell have always been outside of classification. Their decades long seep into the pop culture unconscious marks as well as anything what an odd moment in time we are alive in.
I was a fan before their first album. The same friend who turned me on to Robin Hitchcock gave me a cassette copy of a bootleg of what was allegedly their demo. It featured a bunch of cuts that would eventually appear on their first three albums in very raw form. I was so taken with their ultra spare minimalist accordion and drum machine sound that it took me awhile to adjust to the fuller orchestration allowed by any money at all on their eponymous first album.
Like many of my most favorite musicians and writers, I don’t see any huge ‘periods’ or ‘shifts’ in their work. It’s all one great big long piece and you can come in and sit down pretty much anywhere. More than any other band I can think of, I have real trouble recalling which songs are on which albums. Their music can be anything at any moment, veering wildly through style as reference point, grabbing bits and pieces of disco, folk, acid, punk and polka, soundtrack and ambient noise, whatever they need to get the very specific feeling of each song across.
Their oddly inverted sense of humor is perhaps best represented by the ‘phoned in’ guitar solo by Eugene Chadebourne, frontman of ‘Shockabilly’ and inventor of the electric rake, on ‘Absolutely Bill’s Mood’. It’s literally phoned in, a snippet of notes left on their answering machine.
I must be the biggest TMGB fan never to have seen them live, but through an odd series of coincidences, I had a Thanksgiving dinner with Flansburg’s parents. Over turkey and cranberry sauce in my Aunt’s icy modern art house in Lincoln Massachusetts, where you couldn’t even rearrange the furniture without the express permission of the architect who turned out to be Flansburgh’s dad, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend his sons music. He wanted to know not just what I liked about it, but what anyone would. I tried to point out the genius of lyrics that promised certain rhymes but delivered unexpected meanings by inserting non rhyming words, forcing you to think about where the song would have gone if it had rhymed the way you were sure it was going to at the same time you were listening to where the song went, which was somewhere else entirely. Failing, I tried instead to point out how the Johnny Cash reference in “Boat of Car” lent bizarre gravitas to near nonsense of the lyrics, the drifty bubbly vocal. It was hopeless, but the candied yams, my Aunts signature dish and one of the few things we connected over were delicious. So is the album, which has been re-released as part of the set “Then: The Earlier Years”.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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