They Might Be Giants


They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants - They Might Be Giants ©1987 Bar None Records
1. Everything Right Is Wrong Again
2. Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head
3. Number Three
4. Don't Let's Start
5. Hide Away Folk Family
6. 32 Footsteps
7. Toddler Hiway
8. Rabid Child
9. Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes
10. (She Was A) Hotel Detective
11. She's An Angel
12. Youth Culture Killed My Dog
13. Boat Of Car
14. Absolutely Bill's Mood
15. Chess Piece Face
16. I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die
17. Alienations For The Rich
18. The Day
19. Rhythm Section Want Ad

My love affair with They Might Be Giants' music goes clear back to around 1987 or so when I first heard the single "Don't Let's Start" on some modern rock radio show that I listened to religiously every Tuesday night. Even though I was your typical fourteen year old going through the discovery of metal with Metallica, AC/DC and Megadeth, I was immediately hooked on the band's quirky, truly alternative and geeky approach to music. You'd think a metal fan would not find much interest in a duo that played the accordian, toy instruments and an incredibly primitive drum machine, but the band's odes to folk families, rabid children, Eurythmic fans, hats and youth culture were infectious and deviously timeless ditties.

Although recorded in a lo-fi sort of way, They Might Be Giants' debut features nearly twenty remarkable creative and vibrant tracks displaying the truly offbeat goofiness and left field musical ideas. At least fifteen of these nineteen tracks could be considered darned near genius, regardless of some of the flaws in the recording. The duo had such a way with their lyrics and presentation that it was nearly impossible to not sing along with glee. The vocals were nasally, yet somehow entirely infectious. And in theory, everything about They Might Be Giants should have turned off the music world, but that was hardly the result. Songs like "32 Footsteps", "Rabid Child" and the anthemic "Youth Culture Killed My Dog" were dadist and eerie, yet entirely able to hook you in. The band could rock out heartily on tracks like "(She Was a) Hotel Detective" and croon like a lounge singer on "Alienations for the Rich". On this debut, one sensed this band could do nearly anything they wanted, despite being somewhat restricted by a low budget recording.

As far as debuts go, this is one of the more important and creative releases to come out of the 80s. The Giants took this foundation and built a few incredible records upon it. They Might Be Giants, for at least their first four albums, were truly modern and alternative in the best connotations of the words.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2001

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Lincoln

They Might Be Giants - Lincoln ©1988 Bar None/Restless
1. Ana Ng
2. Cowtown
3. Lie Still, Little Bottle
4. Purple Toupee
5. Cage & Aquarium
6. Where Your Eyes Don't Go
7. Piece Of Dirt
8. Mr. Me
9. Pencil Rain
10. The World's Address
11. I've Got A Match
12. Santa's Beard
13. You'll Miss Me
14. They'll Need A Crane
15. Shoehorn With Teeth
16. Stand On Your Own Head
17. Snowball In Hell
18. Kiss Me, Son Of God

The second They Might Be Giant's opus refined the sound and silliness of the self-titled debut to make one of the quirkiest and most enjoyable modern rock albums of the late 80s. Somehow culling massive amounts of inspiration and influence from goodness knows where, the two Johns take the listener through a bizarre field trip of lyrical wordplay, goofy song structure, pseudo pop and discarded culture. Admittedly this album took some time to really hook me after the immediacy of their debut but it was fully worth it. Of the eighteen songs, perhaps just three don't quite live up to the expectation of brilliant silliness. "Purple Toupee" works the wordplay with the best of them: "Chinese people were fighting in the park/we tried to help fight, no one appreciated that". Goofball blues shows up in the form of "You'll Miss Me" while the album's closer "Kiss Me, Son of God" is a simple, yet stunning, piece of work that is one of the TMBG signature pieces. While Lincoln occasionally comes off as children's music, the actual depth of this band's unique vision is impressive and makes the album a necessity.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2000

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Flood

They Might Be Giants - Flood ©1990 Elektra
1. Theme From Flood
2. Birdhouse In Your Soul
3. Lucky Ball & Chain
4. Istanbul (not Constantinople)
5. Dead
6. Your Racist Friend
7. Particle Man
8. Twisting
9. We Want A Rock
10. Someone Keeps Moving My Chair
11. Hearing Aid
12. Minumum Wage
13. Letterbox
14. Whistling In The Dark
15. Hot Cha
16. Women & Men
17. Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love
18. They Might Be Giants
19. Road Movie To Berlin

Though making a sweeping statement such as "Quite possibly the best album of the 90s" may seem a little wild, I submit to you that no other album released between January 1, 1990 and December 21, 1999 will be quite the gem of Flood. It was instantly addictive and catchy when I got it during the summer of 1990 and nearly a decade later, this is still one of the most amusing and fun records I've ever heard. Pop music may be ephemeral by nature and at best worth a couple moments on the radio, but the genius wit and inherently brilliant songwriting of John Linell and John Flansburgh prove that when done properly, seemingly fleeting music can be timeless.

Face it. Flood will quite possibly annoy you at first but the truth is that you will have at least one of these nineteen songs in your head and it will bounce around for days, causing you to play the album again. And get another song in your head. And repeat the endless cycle. Flood is insidiously viral in nature and truly infectious. A couple of the songs are more prominent in their catchiness. The remake of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" got the most attention when the album was released and is a bouncy, exotic flavored song that still retains the droll wit of the band. Out of these nineteen tracks and based on ten years of listening to this album religiously, I can honestly say that only two of the tracks here don't quite reach the genius level (those being "Letterbox" and "Women & Men"). "Birdhouse in Your Soul", "Particle Man", "Twisting", "Whistling in the Dark", "Hot Cha" and "Dead" are all phenomenal pieces that amuse the living hell out of me every time I hear them. Needless to say, without going into pages and pages of detail as to why this album is so amazing, Flood is the one album that deserves to be in your collection, no matter what your tastes and gets my vote for best of the 90s.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/1999

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Apollo 18

They Might Be Giants - Apollo 18 ©1992 Elektra
1. Dig My Grave
2. I Palindrome I
3. She's Actual Size
4. My Evil Twin
5. Mammal
6. The Statue Got Me High
7. Spider
8. The Guitar (the Lion Sleeps Tonight)
9. Dinner Bell
10. Narrow Your Eyes
11. Hall Of Heads
12. Which Describes How You're Feeling All The Time
13. See The Constellation
14. If I Wasn't Shy
15. Turn Around
16. Hypnotist Of Ladies
17. Fingertips
18. Space Suit

They Might Be Giants was a lovable duo who went from budding genius with their first two albums, to fullscale masterpiece of the ages on Flood and then slowly dwindled down to embarrassing mediocrity with each and every album afterwards. The ride up was phenomenal and the descent was ultimately a major letdown, but at least the first post-Flood was worthy of the They Might Be Giants name.

Describing in so many words what They Might Be Giants does is about as difficult as explaining the causes of World War I. It's possible but it takes a long long time. TMBG essentially is the prototypical pop band of a twisted nerd world, superficially goofy yet much deeper and profound than any actual pop band. Their songs are bubble gum, but the flavor actually lasts with it. On Apollo 18, TMBG was unable to keep up the total stamina of hyperclever music of Flood and upon first listen I was disappointed. It took a few plays of the album but in the end, Apollo 18 became a big favorite of mine. After all, the duo actually wrote a dissertation of what it is that makes animals a "Mammal". Then think about the highly twisted rewrite of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" of "The Guitar" that puts that said lion in charge of a UFO by song's end. Eventually you get to the morbid "Turn Around" which SHOULD be twisted but ends up being a sing-song goofball thing. Of course, "Fingertips" takes the cake for all out weirdness with a ton of song snippets being threaded together with no central theme...yet it works. Nearly every song ends up being far more clever than you think is possible. Naturally Apollo 18 will never top Flood, but sometimes it's best not think about it. Just get this one.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/1999

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John Henry

They Might Be Giants - John Henry ©1994 Elektra
1. Subliminal
2. Snail Shell
3. Sleeping In The Flowers
4. Unrelated Thing
5. Aka Driver
6. I Should Be Allowed To Think
7. Extra Savoir-faire
8. Why Must I Be Sad?
9. Spy
10. O, Do Not Forsake Me
11. No One Knows My Plan
12. Dirt Bike
13. Destination Moon
14. A Self Called Nowhere
15. Meet James Ensor
16. Thermostat
17. Window
18. Out Of Jail
19. Stompbox
20. The End Of The Tour

The gradual creative slide of They Might Be Giants began in full on John Henry. Featuring for the first time a full band and probably the best actual sound of any TMBG record, John Henry offered a lot more promised than it ultimately delivered. Perhaps the novelty of having an actual band distracted the two Johns from what they did best or perhaps at the time their creative well had been tapped but this album is a misstep that would only look good in comparison to their 1996 Factory Showroom. The problem is also exaggerated by the inclusion of a handful of brilliant songs on the CD that make the listener wish the entire twenty song package could even remotely approach the brilliance of Flood or Lincoln. But sadly a lot of the quirkiness comes across as forced and unnatural, as though the Johns were painfully aware of their own reputation built over the course of four great albums.

The tease of this album is that "Subliminal" and "Snailshell" start out the album in grand fashion, lulling the listener into a state of glee, thinking that this new sound and quality would last all through the album. Unfortunately, songs like "Sleeping in the Flowers" come across as They Might Be Giants covering themselves or what a group of strangers would do if they attempted to write TMBG-esque songs. "Unrelated Thing", "Meet James Ensor", "Why Must I Be Sad?", "Dirt Bike" and others all come across as forced goofiness, rather than the natural left field music the Johns had created in the past. On the plus side, "Stomp Box" is an aggressive and energetic romp that does properly put the full band to use. "Spy" is another great tune, which might be even better had the jamming section been edited right out.

The biggest obstacle John Henry faces is that it follows up a slew of wonderful and dearly loved records. While it is still competent TMBG, that simply isn't good enough when a band has set such a high standard for output as the Johns had over the course of several years. There probably is a reason why you see John Henry gracing the shelves of used CD stores more often than any other TMBG disc.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2000

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Factory Showroom

They Might Be Giants - Factory Showroom ©1996 Elektra
1. S-E-X-X-Y
2. Till My Head Falls Off
3. How Can I Sing Like A Girl?
4. Exquisite Dead Guy
5. Metal Detector
6. Your Own Worst Enemy
7. XTC Vs_ Adam Ant
8. Spiraling Shape
9. James K. Polk
10. Pet Name
11. I Can Hear You
12. The Bells Are Ringing

Remember when you first heard They Might Be Giants? Perhaps it was Flood or even Lincoln...maybe even the self-titled debut if you were one of those get in on the groundfloor types. One listen and you were hooked...intentionally or not, you had their tunes bouncing around those crevices in your cranium. And suddenly you had all the lyrics to Flood memorized and wore out several copies playing the album over and over. Then came Apollo 18 and you were left slightly blue because the album wasn't so immediately addictive. But damn it! the thing grew on you like a diaper rash on a neglected infant and eventually you accepted it as a belated masterpiece.

But our heroes John and John brought in outsiders and deeply shook our firmest foundations. They Might Be Giants as a standard rock band? The horrors! Would the accordian go the way of heavy metal poodle heads? We all held our collective breath for John Henry and were, for the first time ever, unable to properly assimilate a TMBG album. Fluke? Had to be. They just needed time to progress and grow into a full, true Giants band.

So we patiently waited and waited to see if the Johns were to unveil the slab of rock we all prayed they were capable of. What a disappointed. Our temples have fallen.

What happened to the giddy pop silliness? The instant classic feeling? The instrumentative cleverness? The desire to play the album over and over? Heck, I couldn't make it through the first listen. "SEXXY" is ploddingly dull and purely lacking cleverness. "Adam Ant vs. XTC" baffles me in it lethargic approach. Recorded on a vintage record pressing machine, "I Can See You" is a nostalgic display of awfulness. There is but one or two songs even distantly reminiscent of TMBG of old. Apparently the well of genius has dried up for the Johns. After two releases of mediocrity, we must wonder if the Giants have shrunk to dwarfdom.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/1996

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Severe Tire Damage

They Might Be Giants - Severe Tire Damage ©1998 Restless
1. Doctor Worm
2. Severe Tire Damage Theme
3. They Got Lost
4. Why Does The Sun Shine?
5. Birdhouse In Your Soul
6. She's An Angel
7. XTC Vs. Adam Ant
8. Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
9. Ana Ng
10. First Kiss
11. Spider
12. Particle Man
13. She's Actual Size
14. S-E-X-X-Y
15. Meet James Ensor
16. Till My Head Falls Off
17. About Me

Once a great duo of wit, clever musicianship and strong pop sense, They Might Be Giants has slowly eroded due to various experiments such as the full band approach and a complete failure to write good songs (as the entire Factory Showroom so aptly demonstrated). In fact, I swore I'd never bother with another TMBG album. As you can see, I relented and picked this collection of a few new songs and live outtakes. And that's only because I overheard it on the record store's speakers.

The live interpretations of various oldies and favorites varies in worthiness of the TMBG name. "Why Does the Sun Shine?", "Ana Ng", "Birdhouse in your Soul", and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" are all pretty decent, being rocked out a bit due to the full band format. However, any inclusion of John Henry or Factory Showroom material is a mistake, especially when the deconstruct the already awful "Meet James Ensor" to a minimalistic bore. It's as if the Johns took their goofiness too seriously. As for the new songs, only "They Got Lost", a funny narrative about the band losing their way to the club, is up to the standard TMBG set on their early works. Apparently the bag of clever ideas has been emptied.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/1998

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