I love it when bands try something different. It doesn’t matter if they change their sound, experiment with different instruments, or try to create something that has never been done before. I’ll make this short and simple. They Might Be Giants did all three of these things in the course of just two years, and one album.
Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll give you some background info about the album. Flood was an album that contained a few hit singles, such as ‘Birdhouse in your Soul’ and ‘Particle Man.’It’s the bands most famous and commercial album. Apollo 18 came out two years after this album, and does not contain any big singles. In other words it was a commercial flop. That being said the overall sound of this album is a lot darker and more cartoonish. This is not by any means a dark album, but it just isn’t as upbeat as most They Might Be Giants albums. This album features many odd sounding tracks and you can tell that the band is trying to experiment with their sound despite the fact that there music was always experimental to begin with.
The vocals are sung in monotone voices, and they sound like something coming from the mouth of Steve Erkel. Both Johns sing, and sound like huge nerds but are both ever so proud of themselves. The vocals featured on the album are whiney and can annoy some people who aren’t into this type of nerd rock music. The voices do blend in with the music, and just add onto the whole strange feel of the album.
Apollo 18 contains many quirky rock/pop tunes, sixteen to be exact. The most notable change about the music is how trumpets and saxophones are added. ‘She’s Actual Size’ contains a nifty trumpet line and has heavy influences of swing and jazz music. The song actually sounds like something that would be playing at an old casino. ‘I Palindrome I’ is the poppiest and most accessible song off the album. The chorus is extremely catchy and the song is powered by a simple drum beat and a detached guitar riff. ‘See the Constellation’ sounds like a five year old sing a long song. John sings in his loveable nerdy voice while the song has a catchy chorus, along with a nice accordion line. There is no doubt that the album has a great amount of range. Instruments range from trumpets, guitars, accordions, and glistening keyboard lines.
Another noticeable change about the music is how it has gotten a lot more eerie and strange. ‘Spider’ is a creepy tune featuring frantic saxophone lines, along with deep, Arabian sounding vocals. ‘Dig my Grave’ is a song that sounds like it would come out of a haunting, circus movie. It features screamed vocals, along with a choppy guitar riff and some manic horn lines.
They Might Be Giants have made some changes, but this album still contains some more standard and basic tunes. These songs usually contain silly, chanted choruses that sound like they come from old children movies. The instruments are also quirky and upbeat. Throughout the course of the album many instruments make their way into the music, and that is the reason that this album is so original and different. It’s basically just pop/rock music, only add in two nerds along with many other instruments. In result you get “quirky" upbeat rock tunes with two whiney nerds singing sing-a-longs.
I’m going to go back to my opening statement, and explain why They Might Be Giants have done something that has never been done before. On the track list you see Fingertips 17-37. The twenty songs featured in the ‘Fingertips’ section all range from about five seconds to thirty seconds long. I’d say that the average Fingertips song is around seven or eight seconds long.
Each of these “special" clips usually feature a phrase spoken by John in a sarcastic voice, backed up by some odd synth type sounds. Some of them have a fairly tale and childish feel to them. The instruments range from funky piano chords to soothing moog noises. It doesn’t really matter because none of these songs last over thirty seconds long. You might be wondering why something like this would be added to an album. Don’t get to excited now, there is a catch.
The whole point of these clips is for you to play the album on shuffle. This way you get a different experience each time you listen to the album. This idea is clearly hit or miss, but for me it actually works. Whenever I listen to this album and put it on shuffle I don’t really know what to expect. The Fingertips songs come and go, and the album has sort of an inconsistent and detached feeling. The random clips of music appear out of nowhere and can catch you by surprise. They are extremely playful and will appeal to many children with there insanely catchy vocals and childish xylophone and vibrating electronic noises. This idea is creative for something that was released in 1992, but now I think it is outdated simply because if you listen to your music you can’t put this on shuffle, which defeats the whole purpose of the ‘Fingertips’ clips.
The first half of this album is basic rock/pop music with heavy influences of brass instruments, zany moog effects and two nerds singing about nonsensical topics. The second half is random clips of noise and a simple phrase is sung in a goofy voice. When you put these two together and mix them up into one album you get exciting, energetic music filled with childish sarcasm. I suppose They Might Be Giants did three things that a band doesn’t usually accomplish in a whole career. They changed their sound, brought in a brass section, and did something that no other band has attempted. Apollo 18 is a very experimental album, and is for those who want some nerd/rock mixed up with random silliness. Although Apollo 18 is hit or miss go for it if you want something truly original and different.