May 27, 2024

They Might Be Giants

IDLE WILD RECORDINGS    29th October 2021

John Flansburgh + John Linnell = TMBG

An ever-playful band, this sparky new release is not a departure for the band but will please anyone who has ever liked one of their songs. Witty, full of obscure references and packed with quirky melodies and hooks.

Many of these songs (and there are a lot of them) are earworms that will delight or plague you after a couple of listens. Personally, I have “Lord Snowden, reporting for service, ennui, a shopping spree” stuck in my head at the moment. Exemplifying the approach of the band, it riffs off the marriage of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, the photographer; pondering the duties of a royal consort. ‘If Day For Winnipeg’ is initially equally puzzling and catchy, with a blarting tuba accompaniment. Or how about ‘Brontosaurus’, which compares the singer to a brontosaurus as described in the old Monty Python sketch (my theory is that a Brontosaurus was very thin at one end, thick in the middle, then thin again at the other end): “I was skinny at first then I got thick and back to being skinny again”.

The selling point of this album is a 152 page coffee table book of photos and lyrics. Featuring street photographs by Brian Karlsson and lyrics from this album and a couple of other recent releases. But they aren’t just lyrics; they are typographical art, typed up on an old electric typewriter by Paul Sahre in patterns and shapes, overstrikes and mis-keyings. The results are not always legible but they are nice to look at. It’s all very quirky; there are two pages with a list of words featured in the book. It functions as a counter-balance to digital music where physical presence is absent, this unwieldy book is something that, if you want to experience it, must have shelf space found for it. “At this point, the album itself might seem like a quaint idea,” John Flansburgh explains. “Giving yourself real creative challenges keeps you moving forward.” John Linnell adds, “Nowadays albums are often just a collection of ones and zeroes. With BOOK we’re looking to make a more interesting object.” One of the releases featured in the lyrics bears mention – Dial-A-Song – where fans could call the band’s answerphone and hear a new song on a regular basis. A bit like Ash’s 52 singles in a year project, it was a way to stimulate and inspire the band.

Start with ‘Synopsis For Latecomers’ at the beginning – working elliptically on the strange Covid year, it comes at ideas sideways and creates pleasing puzzlement. ‘Darling The Dose’ – ties Hamlet’s Dad, Yushchenko, Rasputin and Socrates together through the theme of poison. Is this a Covid song too? There is a lot of playing with images and words in Helicoper Of Lives and elsewhere – this is a band that likes to use words like ‘panopticon’.

At the end of the disc, fifteen songs later, multiple tight tunes and tangential lyrics will be jostling for position in your short-term memory. Go on – have a party in your ears and cerebellum.

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