They Might Be Giants: Join Us

They Might Be Giants: Join Us
Back in high school I remember They Might Be Giants had a cult status. Many of my classmates were heavily into the band, almost all had at least one song they knew and liked, whether they’d admit it or not. So, it’s strange how all these years later how many things have changed, but some still stay the same. Members of the band are now in their 50’s–hell, even I’m older. Yet the Giants are still recording, having released their 15th studio album this past Tuesday.
I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who have never encountered a They Might Be Giants song. “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” has been featured in so many places that I don’t even know where to start. “Boss of Me” was part of the iconic Malcolm in the Middle opening credits. Why, even “Birdhouse in Your Soul” found new life last year in an ad for Clark’s Shoes. So, I think it’s safe to say that just about everyone is familiar with the sound of They Might Be Giants.
Join Us features more of the same. I can’t say that I blame the band. Together since 1982, in some form or another, it’s hard to keep transforming yourself especially when you have a loyal fan base that wants to hear “you”. Not to say that they haven’t morphed at all over the years. Unsurprisingly, the band have put out several children’s albums. And I say unsurprisingly because I often felt that musically there was nothing a parent could say about the band to make it appear as though the devil were working through them. While lyrically I wouldn’t play a song like “S-E-X-X-Y” to a child, I often felt that the vocal delivery was in tune to what a children’s song might require.
Musically, the album is what you can expect from They Might Be Giants. It’s alternative rock with a wide array and use of instruments. It’s quirky, it’s fun, it’s sophisticated even with it’s simplistic feel at times. What gives any They Might Be Giants song the band’s signature is quite indeed the lyrics.
“You Probably Get That a Lot” has an electro-pop feel to it that sort of reminds me of the B-52’s. In the song, we’re introduced to the word cephalophore, which is a word for a person who has been decapitated and walks around holding their head and capable of conversing. It’s an unusual concept, but I feel its metaphorical use in terms of “there are millions of cephalophores that wander through this world”. It’s a fun word to say, and don’t most people walk around spewing pointless phrases out of their mouths with the seeming intelligence of a person who doesn’t have their mind where it’s supposed to be. Perhaps we’re just supposed to enjoy the image of millions of people walking around like the headless horseman just carrying their heads in one arm and their cell phones in the other hand.
“Canajoharie” sounds like a children’s song with its delivery. Nothing more, apparently, than an ode to the town of Canajoharie in New York, it recounts the tale of a person who gets pulled into the swampy waters by a creature. It has become so memorable that the narrator wants “to go back and commemorate the place with a historical plaque”. It is a bit silly, lengthy rhyme but it’s fun to say. What’s not to like about the fun sounds one can discover they’re capable of making with just their mouth?
“When Will You Die” is a fast paced, up-beat song about a miserable person that nobody likes. The whole world is just waiting for said person to die. The opposing feelings, one of wishing the death of a real louse, combined with the cheerful disposition of the music, and you have a dark comedy of sorts playing out. It culminates with the lines “This is Dan, and that’s Dan. And there’s Marty on the drums to complete the band. And I’m John, and he’s also John. And all of us are wondering when you’re gonna die. Still you live. You go on” followed shortly by the type of happy go lucky horns Disney films like to use.
It was good to hear that the band has not changed their ways. Youthful, smart, quirky, themselves. Perhaps there will be no breakthrough song that finds a home in the main stream off of Join Us, but then there doesn’t need to be. Fans will appreciate new work they might sift through just to find another gem. But I think having a thick catalog of older songs that have become beloved over the years, only to be beloved more as time goes on, the band’s live shows will continue to draw. My one real criticism of the album is that it feels like quantity over quality. Most of the tracks never come close to the three minute mark and there’s 18 of them in total. I still rate the album on the high side, but can’t help to wonder what if they had condensed the songs a little more. Would it have helped the album, or hurt it? Join Us will not be remembered as their best album, but it won’t be their worst either.
Rating: 7.0/10
MP3:They Might Be Giants “Dog Walker”
Buy: iTunes or Insound!