They Might Be Giants
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7
Written by John Metzger
Mon July 2, 2007, 05:00 AM CDT
They Might Be Giants never has managed to figure out if it wants to be pointlessly absurd or cleverly kitsch, and its cult-like following combined with the exposure that it received from its contributions to Austin Powers, Malcolm in the Middle, and The Daily Show have provided plenty of cover for the ensemble to avoid choosing one side over the other. At its best, the band has embedded its campy lyrics in arrangements that are utterly irresistible. At its worst, it tediously has been infatuated with its own glibness. The result is that They Might Be Giants frequently comes across as if it would like to be taken seriously but is afraid of the consequential pressure that such a move would present.
Despite the 25 years that have passed since its formation, little has changed about how They Might Be Giants has approached its work, other than the fact that, to the chagrin of its fans, its process has grown increasingly conservative. In a bid to alter that view, the duo of John Linnell and John Flansburgh hired the Dust Brothers to make its latest endeavor The Else sound more contemporary. Strange as it may seem, the skittering beats that underscore songs like Withered Hope and Upside Down Frown as well as the fuzzy bass line that winds through Take Out the Trash go a long way toward making the ensemble’s power pop-imbued eclecticism sound fresh. It also helps, of course, that Linnell and Flansburgh have come up with one of their strongest batches of melodies to date.
Lyrically, The Else still finds They Might Be Giants occasionally stumbling over itself, but here, too, the group has made some forward progress. Although Linnell and Flansburgh’s goofy tendencies remain — check out Bee of the Bird of the Moth, which sounds like Lou Reed spouting a zen koan — their silliness is countered, at least in part, by their political and social observations. I’m Impressed, for example, is a thinly veiled statement about the Bush Administration’s warmongering, and although the subsequent Take Out the Trash is an urgent plea to dump a useless boyfriend, it also is impossible not to view it as a call for domestic regime change. Better still, by giving more thought to the ebb and flow of The Else, the duo has succeeded in dispensing its erratic eccentricities in a way that dares critics and fans alike to try to make sense of them. In the end, They Might Be Giants still sounds like XTC-lite, but The Else is more engaging and less annoying than most of the band’s endeavors typically have been.
The Else is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box