They Might Be Giants
Dial-a-song: 20 Years of...br /> (Rhino Records)
Holy crap, I am old. I'm not one to give into age, I think I may actually be having more fun now than I did in my more Golden Years. I get out, I keep up, I rock on. I'd put my cultural literacy up against any hipster upstart. Fatherhood, marriage, property ownership does not phase me a bit, but this is not something I was prepared for:
They Might Be Giants have been around for 20 years.
Yep, that's a fact hard to swallow around my protruding old-man Adam's Apple. I mean, I'd hear about new albums they did from those dedicated souls that never grew out of novelty-esque music and kept other great goofus bands like Ween and Primus afloat and prosperous. And they would all swear they were good, valid records, but I'd take their word for it and then move on to whatever refactored strain of nostalgia I was engaged in supporting myself. It just didn't occur to me that they had hung around the whole time contiguously, lasting longer than the Beatles and the Pixies combined.
Listening to this deluxe set, its really hard to disparage them like I planned to because TMBG wrote a lot of catchy shit in their alarmingly long tenure. "Birdhouse In Your Soul" off their either second or third album Flood is one of the hookiest songs ever. I caught myself listening to that song on repeat, bobbing along with its joyful cadence just like I did when I reviewed it for my college radio station eons ago. That and "Ana Ng" would get me all the way across campus to my morning Digital Logic class with my spirits intact, so they could be duly crushed by the Department of Engineering's faculty.
I won't go through all 52 (!) songs on the collection, but there are plenty of gems that sound as immediate and comfortably alien as they did the first time around. "The Statue Got me High" and "I Palindrome I" have a rhyme and flow most HipHop zillionaires couldn't touch, whereas "Spider" and "Fingertips" are timeless in their weirdness. However, since this is a career retrospective, there are moments from the latter day Giants that just don't do it for me, namely that Malcolm in the Middle song and "s-e-x-x-Y". I mean, it seems a bit strange to cry sell-out with a band one is hesitant to take seriously, but I think their steam was running out after their classic 1992 album Apollo 18. The band grew and progressed like any band should, its just they seemed to lose some of that ornery dork spark that made them special.
Still, if I put their forth album as the cutoff of their relevance, they had a similar run to Devo had 10 years before them, and Devo's reverence is without question despite the lame music they made after 1982. Granted, Devo is a more "serious" group in a lot of ways, but I think the analogy fits. My suggestion is if you don't have the early albums by this group, get this comp, put it on shuffle and smile. It will be like a blast of slightly sinister, possibly embarassing, but warm and comforting cartoon sunshine.
NOTE to Rhino: as is stated in the small print on the album, this is NOT a collection of their Dial-a-Song daily songs from their famed NYC toll free number in the 80's. I think its kinda cruel calling it Dial-a-Song, getting my hopes up that this was a long-awaited important cultural document and not just a greatest hits comp.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com