THE ELSE • They Might Be Giants
Twenty-five years on from their indie beginnings on the NYC club scene, John Linnell and John Flansburgh have transformed They Might Be Giants into a multi-media entertainment factory. Children's books, podcasts, movie soundtracks, TV themes, a Dial-a-Song number--these are just some of the successful projects TMBG have created in between making records.
The Else, album number twelve, finds the two Johns feeling more extroverted and beefing up their band sound, with mixed results.
As a longtime fan, I've always preferred the Giants when they're more quirky than polished. The oddball arrangements and self-produced charms of older songs like "Ana Ng," "Birdhouse In My Soul" and "The Statue Got Me High" perfectly compliment their adenoidal voices and smart, humorous lyrics. Paired with hip producers The Dust Brothers and Patrick Dillett, they sacrifice some of that idiosyncratic individuality in the name of just plain rocking out.
It's not really what I hoped for from a new Giants album, but I still found plenty to enjoy. The dump-your-boyfriend romp "Take Out The Trash" sounds like a lost Kinks song. "The Mesopotamians" is a flavor-filled bubblegum theme for a fake Monkees-like band. "Bee Of The Bird Of The Moth" revisits the anatomy lesson of their older song "Mammal," but this time with a Japanese monster movie twist. "Contrecoup" is probably the catchiest song ever written about love and head injuries. My favorite track, "The Cap'm," strikes that trademark TMBG balance between laughs, pathos and eccentricity. This creepy, but funny portrait of a character who demands the respect of his seafaring nickname despite the fact that he doesn't "drive a boat," captures the duo at their best.
While The Else isn't up to the Giants' best work, the songs will probably sound great when they take them on the road this summer. And I'll be there, waiting for "The Cap'm," and a bunch of old favorites. • Bill DeMain
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