Time flies when you’re garnering success. It’s hard to believe that eclectic art-rockers They Might Be Giants have been creating music for as long as they have, but check the calendars: 20 years and counting. But now, along with their solid cult of core fans who’ve been devoted since day one, the two Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell) have become something of a popular multimedia phenomenon.
They’re known for their theme song for Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle, their commercial work (I believe it was for Dodge), their collaborations with NPR’s This American Life and McSweeney’s literary journal, their movies and DVDs (the 2002 documentary Gigantic, their musical contribution to The Spy Who Shagged Me), their children’s books and CDs (2002’s No! and last year’s book/CD set Bed, Bed, Bed), their dial-a-song phone and web service, as well as a busy live performance schedule. Bottom line: they’re really busy guys.
With all this good stuff going on, Linnell, Flansburgh and their band of Dans haven’t been back in the studio for a rock recording since 2001’s delightful Mink Car. Fans are restless. Recognizing this, TMBG has put together a 5-song EP as sort of a musical snack to tide over the appetites of those waiting for the full-length release scheduled for later this year.
Starting off this EP is the electronica-suffused track “Am I Awake?”—the theme song for TLC’s doctor reality series Resident Life. The lyrics really convey that feeling of total confusion brought on by exhaustion: “When I close my eyes it looks the same as when I open them again / Am I awake? What time is it? / Is it that time again, wasn’t it already then / so does it have to be the time it was again? / When I get through this day, can’t someone tell me how / and how much longer now am I awake?”
The second track is the lovely but short “Memo to Human Resources”, which finds TMBG in harmonic Fountains of Wayne mode (akin to “Another First Kiss”). Lyrically, they are on top of their game: “I’ll be in the back and I don’t need the help / I’m good here in the back, I’m good all by myself / I’m busy taking stock of all the things that I forgot / and making mental notes of just exactly where I lost the plot / I stuck around too long feeling sorry for myself / A disinvited guest rifles through the bathroom shelf / I’m searching for some disbelief that I can still suspend / but nevermind the furthermore, the plea is self-defense again”.
“Au Contraire” is typically silly TMBG fare. Catchy music, nifty flute solo and lyrics that take historical liberties while making little sense: “Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew not what to do / This tie clashes with my hat, he cried, don’t you think that’s true? / Au contraire, Delano / Hate to rain on your parade /As it happens, au contraire / Au contraire, mon frere”. The third verse involves a poker game between Jodie Foster, Bach, and Mahatma Gandhi.
The radically re-worked “Ant” is track four here, a part of TMBG’s brass band’s “Other Thing”. It builds slowly until it really swings and features some great trumpet work from Mark Pender (of the Late Night With Conan O’Brien band). Lyrical silliness continues unabated, as we follow “an ant crawling up your back in the nighttime”. That ant crawls in your head and eventually becomes president (nice incorporation of “Hail to the Chief” as well). It gets even more random from there, but is that any surprise?
The final track here (again featuring a cameo from trumpeter Mark Pender) is a live recording faithfully covering the Brian Wilson Pet Sounds classic, “Caroline, No”.
While Indestructible Object is pleasant but brief, these five tracks are not essential except perhaps to fans of They Might Be Giants who can’t wait until the full-length CD is released later this year. Then again, after 20 plus years, there are many who fit that bill—and I’m certainly eager to hear more of what’s coming.
// Notes from the Road
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