Artist: "They Might be Giants"
Album: "They Might be Giants"
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label: Bar/none

Reviewer: Max Burbank
Posted: 4/17/2008

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”.

Overall rating: WholeWholeWholeWholeWhole
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

James Brown in hiding
Apr 17th, 2008, 06:33 AM
I dunno man. I thought they were kind of funny but not funny enough to carry a whole album.
Forum Virgin
Apr 17th, 2008, 09:20 AM
This album, along with Flood and Apollo 18 make a trilogy of awesome. I love these albums as much today at 32 as I did when I was 14.
Apr 17th, 2008, 08:45 PM
I used to be really into TMBG. I loved the lyrics because they were weird and interesting. I should really listen to Apollo 18 again. It took me 2 years to find that album for a good price.
Forum Virgin
Apr 18th, 2008, 01:04 AM
TMGB got me through middle school. I have to say, though, that if I had to pick a favorite, I'd pick Lincoln. I'm not sure why, I just love that cd.
Serial Loiterer
Apr 18th, 2008, 07:58 AM
I had a cousin who once told me when I was much younger that, "If you want to be cool, you have to watch Cool Hand Luke. But if you want to be really cool, you have to listen to They Might Be Giants." He went off to become a beer truck driver. How freakin' cool is that!? TMBG is near the top of the list of my favorite bands. Seems just about ever song by them I listen to just makes me feel a lot less like punching pedestrians. 'Ana Ng' has got to be one of their best songs.
Apr 18th, 2008, 09:52 PM
They Might Be Giants are everywhere.
Apr 20th, 2008, 11:29 AM
Why did you grow a beard?
Why did you grow a beard?
I can't leave you alone for five minutes
What the Christ?
What the devil?

Why did you grow a beard?
Why did you grow a beard?
Is there nowhere in the world for a no goodnik
Is there nowhere in the
Screaming, yelling

Animals rule this land
Animals rule this land
Would it kill you to use your signal when you cut me off?
Would it kill you?

Why did you grow a beard?
Why did you grow a beard?
Why did you put it on the garbage barge and tow it out into the
Screaming, yelling...

Man, TMBG rules.
Forum Virgin
Apr 20th, 2008, 05:39 PM
When I was young the thing I liked most about the lyrics were that I "got" them, and some of my stupider friends didn't. Those of us who did formed a sort of little clique that frowned upon anyone who could not properly decipher the meaning of Birdhouse In Your Soul.

You should see them live Max, they are awesome on stage.
Forum Virgin
Apr 22nd, 2008, 03:36 PM
TMBG are absolutely awesome.

My personal favorite album is Flood, but you have to love Absolutely Bill's Mood from the first...
demerit n' dad
Apr 29th, 2008, 05:56 PM
So Flansburgh's daddy didn't like his music? What a jerk.

Anyway, I'm going to avoid bumping an old thread and say that The Else is a great album. I didn't like it at first [mainly for the Take out the Trash song and Contrecoup], but it grew on me and I even consider Bee of the Bird of the Moth one of the best TMBG songs. The extra podcast disc was great too.

My favorite song from the debut album is "Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head".
Forum Virgin
Jul 7th, 2008, 12:26 AM
Apollo 18 + "Shuffle" button = GENIUS!
demerit n' dad
Jul 7th, 2008, 08:06 PM
I've been listening to the album lately and now I think it's better than Flood. The cheap sound and drum machine is perfect and Flansburgh had written and sung what may be his best songs of all time. This is for sure the only album where he outshines Linnell (though he had his moments, Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes and Rhythm Section Want Ad comes to mind and of course Don't Let's Start).