Thursday, May 2, 2013

Here Come The ABCs, There Go The Fans Of They Might Be Giants!

The Good: Educational, I suppose
The Bad: Not intended for adults and therefore not as quirky, brilliant or edgy as most TMBG
The Basics: They Might Be Giants tries their hand at creating an educational tool with Here Come The ABCs, an album utterly disappointing to adult fans of the group.

They Might Be Giants went from being an independent, quirky alternative band to a children's group so quickly that my shock has only now worn off to review their latest albums. I found out about the format change from a person who is known for playing pranks on me. Wow, I've not been so disappointed to not be the brunt of a prank in my life. Following sitting through the They Might Be Giants album No! I reluctantly sat down to listen to They Might Be Giants Here Come The ABCs.

Unlike No! there is no middle ground on this album, it is firmly a kid's album, introducing itself as a celebration of the Alphabet and serving only to educate young listeners, it is deadweight for adults. With twenty-six tracks clocking in at just over forty-three minutes, Here Come The ABCs is an educational disc that has marginal educational value and less entertainment value.

I remember growing up listening to Slim Goodbody and so useful and educational was his recording on the human body that when I was taking AP Biology in high school, I relistened to the album while studying for the simple reinforcement of some of the basics. There is nothing so sophisticated, clever or even memorably melodic on this outing from They Might Be Giants. Instead, most of the songs are simply educational by example.

So, for example, "Alphabet of Nations" simply lists countries in alphabetical order. And this does little but name countries in order, preceding by half an album a song that actually describes alphabetical order. So "Who Put The Alphabet In Alphabetical Order?" is either redundant for children who learned by example on "Alphabet of Nations" or provides a key far too late to help those who did not catch what was going on in the earlier track.

A number of the songs are even less useful. "Go for G!" and "Pictures of Pandas Painting" are simple songs that simply use the letters g and p, respectively over and over again. It's bad enough that the songs do not do so much but repeat the same sounds over and over again, but it's disappointing that the songs are together on the album. So, the same concept is repeated right away.

This might seem nitpicky, especially in light of the prior problem with the album, but where "Who Put The Alphabet In Alphabetical Order?" actually teaches a skill that could be applied when listening to "Alphabet of Nations," having "Go For G!" and "Pictures of Panda's Painting" next to each other does not challenge children to learn by anything other than rote.

The most useful song on the album is "C Is For Conifers" which provides a nice, basic botany lessons on fruit-bearing pine trees. More than simply repeating words with c, "C Is For Conifers" educates using other information and challenges the listener to not only remember various "c" words, but also provides a lesson that stimulates other memory formations, giving concrete information on different types of trees.

The track that most seems like a They Might Be Giants song is "Fake-Believe," which is reprised on the album as track 20 after appearing as the ninth track. The introduction of "Fake-Believe" features the nasal vocals of John Flansburgh and John Linnell and instantly reminds the listener of the creativity and quirky sense that used to rule the band before they launch into a series of words that begin with "f."

Like most They Might Be Giants's works, Here Come The ABCs utilizes a number of instruments as opposed to simply guitars and drums, though in this sense this album is one of their most limited endeavors. Using only minimal samples, this album does have bass, drums, trombone, tuba, trumpet and tuba accompaniment on various songs. None of the songs have anything remotely memorable as far as melodies. There is no "Pencil Rain" or "Particle Man" on this album.

But the songs will likely teach children about vowel combinations, the pairing of q and u, alphabetical order and that l,m,n, and o are not one letter. Outside the educational songs, Track 12 "Letter / Not A Letter" baffles the listener as a silly collection of recorded children identifying things that cannot be seen on the audio portion. Similarly, "Clap Your Hands," which was not good on No! is no better near the end of Here Come The ABCs.

All in all, this is a kid's album and not an impressive one at that. They Might Be Giants fans will be disappointed and their children will likely have to wait to raid their parent's stash rather than have parents subjected to this musically dumbed down collection.

The best song is "C Is For Conifers," the worst of the less-inspired tracks is "Letter / Not A Letter." Rating might be more appropriately a 5/10, though that's only for children. As a musical album, it deserves the 2 it’s getting.

For other works by They Might Be Giants, please check out my takes on:
Then: The Early Years


For other musical albums, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of those reviews!

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