Under Review: They Might Be Giants – Join Us

People’s tastes change over the years. This I can understand. What snapped me out of the daze of fandom for They Might Be Giants was less a result of their increasingly formulaic music than a bad experience with the guys themselves. Years ago, I worked with They Might Be Giants for an afternoon concert, a move that flies in the face of the ‘don’t meet your favorite singers’ rule I imposed upon myself shortly after. Seeing the real people behind this music was disheartening and, while I’m sure their prickly attitudes was derived first and foremost from the early hour of their performance, I’ve never been able to listen to They Might Be Giants the same way since. I’ve seen the band in concert a few times since working with them, and while their live shows remain energetic and celebratory, they have similarly become less spontaneous and more predictable. To be honest, I didn’t even listen to TMBG’s previous album, The Else. What I heard from it sounded forced and joyless.

Four years and even more collections of children’s music on from The Else, They Might Be Giants return with another album geared toward their grown-up listeners. As with most They Might Be Giants albums, Join Us offers a lengthy track list comprised of short compositions. The interplay between John Linnell and John Flansburgh remains a prototypical musical double act. The longtime band, guitarist Dan Miller, bassist Danny Weinkauf and drummer Marty Beller, is still plenty tight. What’s missing on Join Us is the same thing that TMBG have struggled to come up with over the past several albums: memorable songs. Each song’s brevity causes track after track to breeze by without making a strong impression. Autobiographical opener “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” has Linnell bragging about his (or perhaps his bandmate’s) resilience, and Flansburgh’s “In Fact” sounds like a direct lift of Cake’s “Stickshifts And Safetybelts.” Unlike those other iconoclastic rockers (whose Showroom Of Compassion was a surprisingly impressive effort), They Might Be Giants have been defiantly moving away from the sound of their best years since the release of John Henry in 1994.

The allusions to ‘classic’ TMBG to be found on Join Us are when John and John overtly go to places they’ve been before. There’s “Cloisonné,” whose horn arrangement by frequent collaborator Stan Harrisson sounds like an update of the outsider jazz of “Lie Still, Little Bottle,” and “When Will You Die” sets the self-aware mortality of “The End Of The Tour” against a bright backdrop that’s not unlike “Dr. Worm.” Retreading old sounds would be a perfectly permissible change of gears, but Join Us is ultimately too wordy, too choppy and too forgettable to be anything more than another inessential entry into They Might Be Giants’ catalogue.

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~ by E. on July 20, 2011.

One Response to “Under Review: They Might Be Giants – Join Us”

  1. Remember, St. Peter declared them “the nicest of the damned”.

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