They Might Be Giants
The Spine


3.5
great

Review

by robin EMERITUS
May 18th, 2008 | 0 replies | 3,321 views


Release Date: 2004 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A less 'crazy' release from the band, which sways in The Spine's favour at times, and away at others.

How do you really define They Might Be Giants? Over the years they’ve never really asserted themselves into one area, with a stream of releases in different aspects of music constantly revisited – however never confined by. Shifting through the back catalogue, many might be confused (though not always put off) by albums directed towards the children’s music genre. Most others will have heard the exaggerated “Boss Of Me” via show Malcolm In The Middle, and will have sub-consciously been listening to one of the band’s many theme music compositions. Finally, there’s the focused rock records; experimentally driven with unconventional, obscure and at times baffling ideas.

So does that make for a joke band? Considering how the group's biggest success, Flood boasted a momentous amount of quirkiness (which arguably put it where it is), and how predecessor Lincoln declared obvious ‘nerd-rock’ wackiness, the band are certainly out to challenge the norm of ‘realistic’ Rock. However, the experimentation that has held the band in esteem still carries undertones of a fully-fledged Rock band. Perhaps one could say that They Might Be Giants aren’t so much a joke, but merely telling a joke within their albums. The Spine is one of those gags that has an incoherent but somehow still amusing punch line.

Putting it this way could easily explain how hit-and-miss the album truly is. To begin with (and as with any TMBG album) the vocals difficult for everyone to accept; despite how matchless John Flansburgh’s singing can be, the winding, ‘nerdy’ voice can often grate and take away listeners. The album is left disjointed due to the sheer content of it – sixteen songs that do not always connect in a way they should. Indeed, while the problem isn’t exactly their length (most songs clock appropriately swiftly), the ‘fun’ style is torn apart due to the overshadowing bad moments. Two of the album’s songs can be found on the earlier Indestructible Object EP release, which poses the question of their second airing here. “Au Contraire” itself just about fits in, with some mellow piano driven by some eccentric citing David Bowie questioning whether his 'chops are dug’. While this by some means carries the persona required, one might wonder what the point in gifting “Memo To Human Resources” a revisit was. The song achieves very little, limited by its forgettable melody and comparably mediocre lyrical humour (Later in my car/I can see what you said/I’m good here in my car/I’m good with what you said) and does superior tracks a great injustice.

Although in fairness, songs that outshine the above are usually containing a more generic, standard formation. “Wearing A Raincoat”. Contains simple guitar chord progression and a sly drumbeat; as usual, the deciding factor becoming its offbeat, free-flowing poetic work - Sleeping is the gateway drug to being awake/Being awake is swimming around in a lake of the undead/and the undead are like a bunch of friends that demand constant attention. Though perhaps understated, some of the best moments from The Spine are down to repetition, aired vocally or harmoniously. “Thunderbird” frequently bursts with sharp guitar and cheerfully deals with topics such as addiction (I Know/I Know/I said/That I’d desist) through the means of the song’s quite obvious title tribute. This song, despite following a continuous pattern, works as if climactic, with Flansburgh’s voice becoming pushier and pushier before an abrupt ending.

The aesthetical lyrical work proves to be in TMBG’s favour, with the band’s frequent twisting of grammatical structures somehow feeling fresh. Claiming I was out of ideas, like I is, like I is on “Stalk Of Wheat” might at first sound quite clearly moronic, but the song is pulled off to a tune that resembles a children’s pantomime – perhaps not how many would base their songs perhaps, but still an intriguing mix of sounds. Actually, some of the best moments come from this creative outlet – “Museum Of Idiots” suggests the same situation with explosive trumpets, however sustains a rocky atmosphere with some collected keyboard, bass and percussion for good measure. “Broke In Two” almost makes listeners wonder if we’ve heard it before somewhere; rather easy guitar arrangements eventually transporting us to the interestingly sung lyrics I heard I’m an orang-utan which make us forget about our nostalgia.

Similarly, you won’t want to get déj* vu from tracks quite sadly lost in translation. “Prevenge”, for all its brilliant conceptual work, is gritty due to irritating over-the-top singing and lyrics that gradually worsen, despite wonderful potential. “Bastard Wants To Hit Me” couldn’t possibly find its place here, sounding like a sluggish version of “Au Contraire” (which was never exceptionally speedy in the first place) with disappointing, failed distortion.

There’s something missing from The Spine. Or maybe there’s too much present. In a way, something does not appeal outwards as it should. As much as anyone would have anticipated this album - desiring a classic - I wouldn’t have been overly bothered to have seen TMBG flop the album. At least then there would be something dramatic to talk about; though seemingly The Spine isn’t a piece that will go one way or the other. It even sounds less manic compared to previous outings such as Flood. Still, They Might Be Giants haven’t lost their way yet, as some excellent standouts prove. It’s just harder to fall in love with The Spine, as much as “Spines” tries to cram that action into your brain.



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