Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Flood Of Eccentric Music As They Might Be Giants Broke Into The Mainstream!

The Good: Decent music, Good vocals, Wonderful weird lyrics
The Bad: SHORT, Some of the tracks are too quirky just for the sake of oddity.
The Basics: A strong, just-outside-the-mainstream pop-rock sound conceals the clever and eccentric lyrics of They Might Be Giants on Flood.

They Might Be Giants is the quirky duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell and I've listened to their albums Flood and Then: The Early Years (reviewed here!) for quite some time now and it surprised me that I had not reviewed the former. When I recently encountered the They Might Be Giants album No! (reviewed here!) and was dismayed by how it delved into children's music, I decided it was time to explore where They Might Be Giants had been and relistening to Flood.

With 19 tracks clocking in at just over forty-three minutes, Flood is a triumph of quirky music that is art that pushes the boundaries of pop-rock. Flood was the mainstream success for They Might Be Giants as the group had tracks, notably "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "Particle Man" presented on the very popular (at the time) show Tiny Toons. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" is the only song on the album not written by Flansburgh and Linnell. "Birdhouse In Your Soul" was played at numerous dance clubs. Picked up by Elektra, They Might Be Giants presents an album that is a bit more refined than some of their earlier works and the cover song flows seamlessly with their offbeat humorous ditties.

Unlike some of their earlier works, songs on Flood are somewhat longer than the clip-like tracks that characterized many of the Dial-a-song songs that made They Might Be Giants known in the alternative circles. The songs on this album resemble Talking Heads more than the early works of They Might Be Giants. As a result, some fans do not like how "refined" this album is.

I think this illustrates that the group is evolving in a rather positive direction. So, for example, on "Dead," the song is downright musical. The piano that accompanies the very serious vocals (if not lyrics) is professional, clean and serious. They let the absurdity be the lines, as they sing about how "I returned a bag of groceries / Accidentally taken off the shelf / Before the expiration date / I came back as a bag of groceries / Accidentally taken off the shelf / Before the date stamped on myself . . ." ("Dead"). It's clever; they sound like a pop-rock band, until one listens closely to what they are actually singing.

But Flood is a surprisingly smart album, despite such silly songs as "Particle Man." For an album geared toward young adults, it smartly dealt with peer pressure and racism ("Your Racist Friend"), the uncertainty of life ("Letterbox"), and the importance of being your own person ("Someone Keeps Moving My Chair"). When was the last time a mainstream pop-rock song sand out "This is where the party ends / I can't stand here listening to you / And your racist friend / I know politics bore you / But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you /You and your racist friend" ("Your Racist Friend")? Hell, when was the last time a mainstream artist used such solid diction as "hypocrite?"

They Might Be Giants is deceptively smart in its musicmaking, creating an album that resonates well beyond 1990, when it was originally released. In fact, the only track that dates the album is the opener, "Theme From Flood." "Birdhouse In Your Soul" is a cutting edge pop-dance track that would still rock in clubs today.

What keeps Flood worthy of the attention of those who loved the early works of They Might Be Giants are the vocals and the variety of instrumentals. The vocals - outside the first track - are performed by Flansburgh and Linnell and it carries the signature nasal sound that defines They Might Be Giants. The sound of the lyrics is very familiar to fans coming from the voices of the two Johns. People unfamiliar with They Might Be Giants will instantly be engrossed by the eclectic and often absurd sound of the lead vocalists.

The thing is, both Flansburgh and Linnell can - and do! - sing. They have wonderful voices that come through, like on the opening to "Hearing Aid" and they manage to get out complex lines fast with songs like "Letterbox." And, frankly, they sound good with their baritone performance voices.

The other distinctive, consistent quality that defines the music of They Might Be Giants from their early years through Flood is the variety of musical instruments the duo uses to make their songs. Unlike a traditional keyboard/drum machine/guitar group, They Might Be Giants employs those instruments plus accordions, violins, trumpets and even a whipcrack.

So, for those familiar only with mainstream pop-rock groups of albums, Flood offers the listener some genuine variety. The songs range from the very fast "Letterbox" and "Your Racist Friend" to the slow, sad "Road Movie To Berlin" and "Dead." This is a surprisingly strong and diverse musical experience and it is a great album for those looking to expand their horizons from the mainstream into something just around the bend.

The best song is "Birdhouse In Your Soul," the low point it "Hot Cha."

For other quirky musical acts, please visit my reviews of:
Birds And Beasts And Flowers - Autumn Defense And Hem
The Uninvited - The Uninvited
Barenaked Ladies Are Men - Barenaked Ladies


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where musical works are rated from best to worst!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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