Review Summary: Poppy and Offbeat Summation of a Great Band2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Dial-A-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants
This page is for my Disc 1 review. As promised earlier, here's my link to Disc 2:
"There is something endearing about a band whose roadies have to unload a bass clarinet. When John Flansburgh and John Linnell of They Might Be Giants came along in the 1980s, they were a new kind of rock star - the kind one might actually want to know." - From "Everyone's Your Friend in New York City", by Sarah Vowell
Here's a proverbial question for the ages: what is "good' music? Among all colors of music, some acts stand on the shoulders of the rest for years, while others peak with a hit single or two before dying slowly and terribly in the silent hell of commercial radio.
The pretenders to the throne tour and core with the best of them, but seem to lack much musical significance (do you honestly think that you'll remember My Chemical Romance twenty years from now?). Sure, the simpleminded music crowd snatches up mediocre albums by the billions, but few of the
top acts of today sport the kind of filling musicmeat that keeps you scarfing down tunes like Cobain went through downers. The question: what brings you back to some records again and again, while others gather imaginary dust in some drawer?
My guess isn't the perfect answer you may want: all of the best musical acts of the last couple of decades are influenced in some way by Frank Zappa. The musical mores of Zappa, the godfather of eclectic rock and poster child for originality, reverberate with the best musical acts of recent years. Seek out musicians who play every genre - thrash, jazz, polka (!) - and, believe you me, the subtle influence of the only guy demented enough to name his children Dweezil and Moon Unit will be lurking around the corners. The best
names in music survive our faddish consumer culture and become something more; without firestarters like Zappa, Hendrix, Patton and Waits, where would we be?
Enter They Might Be Giants. They count Zappa among their idols. See where I'm headed here?
And, like the master of catchy psychedelia himself, TMBG holds music up to an almost deified plane. An immense amount of respect permeates the work of They Might Be Giants; respect for concepts of originality, respect for their audience, respect for the music itself.
They Might Be Giants don't play any specific genre - they take what sounds fun and run with it. They run the gamut from subversively strange to borderline-mainstream, from sentimental to wacky, from intentionally ironic to serious and sincere.
My suggestion: Buy "Dial-A-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants", download the free They Might Be Giants clock radio online music player, and visit Dialasong.com. These three outlets should give you a good picture of the band's versatility, from their small beginnings in 1982 to today, three years after the initial release of this 20-year retrospective anthology.
The varying styles of They Might Be Giants obliterates any chance of writing a cohesive summary of their amazing career (I'll cover that in the track descriptions), so I'll get to the point - why should you buy this anthology?
If you've never really gotten into TMBG (and I hadn't before picking up this two-disc set a couple of years ago), let me assure you that this is the perfect place to start. Disc 1 contains some of TMBG's bigger hits; everyone's heard "Birdhouse in Your Soul", "Boss of Me" (a less caustic version of their theme song for Malcom in the Middle, for which they won a Grammy), and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)". Disc 2, on the other hand, contains the band's picks for some of their favorite, more eclectic, songs. And they're some of the best on the record: "She's An Angel", "Pet Name" and "The End of the Tour" totally live up to everything on the first disc. Whatever your favorite side of TMBG, it's all here.
The packaging is the snazziest I've seen in awhile - not important, really, except to point out the immense amount of work that goes into a TMBG release. The accompanying booklet includes two short essays: one
by the band and one by the very perceptive, very funny Sarah Vowell (who recently garnered mainstream treatment for her voice work in last year's Pixar instant classic "The Incredibles" ). All of the lyrics are here, with proper credits and discography (printed, amusingly, as yellow-pages ads).
The final straw: Both of these discs are burned to the max: FIFTY-TWO songs (26 per disc, for you math types), which ensures, of course, nearly three hours of running time. It's like four-and-a-half records for the price of two!
Track Listings (For Disc 1)
Disc 2 track listings can be found at [url]http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?reviewid=2275[/url]
Birdhouse in Your Soul
They Might Be Giants' veritable mega-hit, "Birdhouse in Your Soul" is a good intro to the band's psyche; wonderfully strange yet sincere lyrics (sung from the perspective of a nightlight), an incredibly catchy, hummable, danceable rhythm, with a side of good humor.
A love song to a person unmet, on the other side of the world, Ana Ng is another great showpiece, with a great repeating guitar riff and nostalgic lyrics. This reminds me - buy their "Live From Brooklyn" DVD music video collection.
"Ana Ng and I are getting old and we still haven't walked in the glow of each other's majestic presence / listen Ana, hear my words, they're the ones you would think I would say if there was a me for you."
Don't Let's Start
This song has a heavy '80s sound, hearkening back from TMBG's more frenetic days. Not much else to do put post more of the great lyrics:
"D: World Destruction / Over and overture / N, do I need / Apostrophe T, need this torture?"
Boss of Me
A longer, better version of the Malcome in the Middle theme song (TMBG does nearly all of the music for Malcolm in the Middle, by the way). "Boss of Me" is a great song in its own right, with a nice, almost ska-like beat.
A completely hilarious song, minimalist yet complete. It's humorously fatalistic: "You're older than you've ever been - and now you're even older, and now you're even older, and now you're even older", etc. Great stomping-around-the-house music, if you're into that sort of thing.
Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
Another classic off of the Flood album, this song is basically a turbocharged version of "Putting on the Ritz". Its atmosphere is jazzy and boppy, with great competing vocals playing off of each other.
A great piece with lots of trumpets, "Doctor Worm" is about a guy with a ludicrously strange stage name and a love for drumming. The lyrics are heartfelt and self-deluding:
"They call me Dr. Worm. Good morning, how are you? I'm Dr. Worm.
I'm interesting in things. I'm not a real doctor, but I am a real worm. . .
I live like a worm."
A psychedelic rave version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", with a great, disharmonic backmelody. Lots of trumpets and general rockin".
The song featured on the opening sequence for the second "Austin Powers" movie, "Dr. Evil" is a hilarious parody of the James Bond themes. It's basically that sort of sexy lounge act deal. The lyrics are great:
"When your name is evil, bad is good - or so you think - but you're so very wrong: It's evil. But being wrong is right, so then you're good again. Which is the evilest thing of all. . ."
New York City
A rare TMBG cover, "New York City" is a fairly straightforward love song with chimes and a wailing guitar backdrop. "Everyone"s your friend in New York City. . ."
There's great accordion work here. I read "Particle Man" as a duel between the dimensions - the obtuse struggle between Particle Man, Triangle Man, Universe Man, and the self-loathing Person Man is difficult to understand otherwise. Super-catchy.
A strange little number, probably about alienation or something. I find this song interesting, probably due to the repeated lyrics and pop culture references (Chucky, Richard Nixon, etc.). The music is interesting, too, and this song has a rawer sound than most TMBG songs.
Elevator music. It starts out with a "Rawhide!"-like whip crack, then turns into a strange little easy-listening thingy. It's weird filler, to be sure.
Man, It's So Loud in Here
A great techno-trance number, ironically about the increasing level of noise in today's society, "Man, It's So Loud in Here" is one of my favorites, and not just because I love to turn the volume wayyy up and cruise around with toxic bass notes blasting from my speakers. Great, multilayered sound.
We're the Replacements
Not being familiar with "The Replacements", I don't understand this song. I'm sure I'd find it funnier if I had the necessary background information. Otherwise, it doesn't stand out that much. It's sarcastically boppy and lampoons the rock star lifestyle nicely, though.
Why Does the Sun Shine?(Live)
A faster version of their famous educational number (which I've known by the name "The Sun Song" since I was like eight years old). The nostalgia that I find in this song probably biases me towards it, but it's funny and fast.
Your Racist Friend
A melodization of a common experience: This racist idiot, a friend of the host, babbles on at a party, but I'm too polite to shut him up. It has an uncommonly industrial sound for a TMBG song.
A forgettable ode to. . . well, bangs. In this "Hooray For Boobies" culture, it's strange to see a less single-minded tact. I really don't get it, but it's musically quite solid.
Old-school techno-rawk with a twist: it's sung from the perspective of a grateful snail, saved from certain death by a generous helper. In a "Lion and the Mouse" sort of way, it's quite willing to help out in any way
possible, of course.
Wonderfully dated, in a good way. Completely a child of its time period, it references now-ancient music, technology and mores. It's merely an appetizer for the next song:
Another First Kiss
Slow, strangely apathetic and sincere. Sort of a metaphor for an attempt to rekindle a dying relationship. This song cements this anthology as great night-drivin music.
They'll Need a Crane
This song annoyed me at first, before I grasped its coiling subtlety (I don't know if I'm being sarcastic or not, a common sentence in a Clumpy review). Another obtuse metaphor: a house and a relationship. TMBG knows when to ditch the typical song format for a great bridge:
"Don't call me at work again - no, no, the boss still hate me.
I'm just tired, and I don't love you anymore. And there's a restaurant we should check out where the other nightmare people like to go. I mean nice people - baby, wait - I didn't mean to say nightmare."
The Statue Got Me High
This song's plot is taken from an ancient Greek myth, where a guy builds a statue, and falls in love with it, before it zaps him into oblivion. Some of the lyrics are supposedly taken from some poem somewhere, but this song doesn't stand out a whole lot.
(She Was A) Hotel Detective
I prefer the other version of this song (simply called "Hotel Detective" ); this song annoys me a bit. It's sort of a growly jazz-lounge act song. The music video is great, though, and seems to have inspired Sesame Street's old opening cartoon (with the dancing buildings). Yes, I know that my descriptions of the music video do nothing to affect the quality of the song or influence this anthology in any way. Excuse me while I blather.
Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head
More great TMBG '80s-rock. It's very frenetic and cynical, depicting the situation of the trapped businessman. "Memo to myself: do the dumb things I gotta do. Touch the puppet head."
I Palindrome I
An incredibly catchy, humorous song. "I Palindrome I" is full of palindromes, if you couldn't divine that by the title. It's got a great opening line:
"Someday mother will die and I'll get the money. Mom leans down and says 'my sentiments exactly. You son of a b****.' "
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