Saturday, July 30, 2011

They Might Be Giants: Join Us

     Despite the modern album art, which suggests to me a fun and youthful record, They Might Be Giants have been going for a long time. If you've never heard of the band, they formed way back in 1982, and have released fifteen albums, even if some of them are aimed at children. Yet the album cover stays true to their sound. They are arguably one of the most fun and quirky groups out there, but for me this effort doesn't carry the same strength or colour as in say, 'Lincoln', which remains one of their best releases. There are still the great hooks and melodies and lyricism that we're used to, and for one just coming into They Might Be Giants, my disappointment will probably go unnoticed. If you're familiar with their work however, the feel surrounding this album has, dare I say it, matured. A fair few individual tracks do hit the spot, but the overall sound is, in my opinion, lacking. That being said, the production is clean, and after four years of working with a child audience, I appreciate that even as it is, 'Join Us' is a huge accomplishment for the band. I guess I'm just underwhelmed, but at the end of the day, even when compared to their earlier output I can't deny that I did crack a smile more often than not. I've never been the strongest fan of They Might Be Giants though, I have to say. For me, the whole structure of their songs is very generic. The guitars and drums have all been heard before, and it's most definitely the lyricism and delivery that gives them their originality. But then, they're not serious are they. Their sound has, like I said before, matured, but they're still just trying to make people laugh and have a little fun.
     Opening with 'Can't Keep Johnny Down', I wasn't taken aback when noticing it felt a bit short. Looking over the length of each of the eighteen songs, two of them run over three minutes. Two. Still, this isn't unusual for TMBG, and it does allow the album to change up and stay fresh. 'Can't Keep Johnny Down' kicks things off with an unsurprisingly generic sound, from the drums to the guitars, and like all the tracks could have done with a little originality. 'You Probably Get That A Lot' isn't memorable at all and merges with the previous track a little too much for my liking. 'Old Pine Box' is a lot better. Its cheery clapping beat and higher vocals work well together and contrast nicely with the deep grinding guitars at the beginning of 'Canajoharie'. The passionate vocals didn't strike me as immediately hilarious as on songs such as 'Cloisonné' either. On said number, the vocals are turned up to a (deliberately) laughable falsetto, in order to take on the voice of a raindrop. That's right. A song in which a raindrop talks, or rather sings to the listener. But rather than sounding decidedly immature, it's actually rather quaint and charming.
      The latter half of the album is better than the first, for sure. 'When Will You Die' marks the death of the first section with a fantastically dark song about rejoicing because of someone's passing, and another of the better numbers comes into play. 'Protagonist', with it's finger-snapping beat and chill melody feels very bar band, with a distinctive difference between singer and backing vocals. 'Judy Is Your Viet Nam' is a lot harder in it's delivery, but it's lyrics are once again, very unique to TMBG. After the wistfully soft 'Never Knew Love' comes 'The Lady And The Tiger', a song introduced by whistle-backed rap/talking? The atmosphere around this particular track is deep and moody, which contrasts nicely with the others. One of the best examples of the band's quirky lyricism is also here, with "Do you surmise it’s wise to have laser beams emitting from your eyes?". I know. But the weirdest is yet to come. For some, the vocals and electronic experimentation on 'Dog Walker' will be off-putting, but for me they're the most hilarious part of the record! They also highlight TMBG's ability to actually do something instrumentally that sounds somewhat unique, an element I long to see more of from the band in general.
      Overall, I'm not going to deny that I didn't enjoy this record, but there are a few things that didn't appeal to me. Firstly, the generic song structure. Sure, some songs threw in a bit of much-needed experimentation, but as a whole I wanted them to sound more unique, rather than simply replay unique lyricism. That's a problem I've always had with They Might Be Giants, but still, it's a qualm I had with 'Join Us'. Their sense of fun and colour and strength also faltered on this particular effort in my opinion, and if I could, I would try to steer the band clear of the path to maturity. I'll certainly check out their next release, but I won't be returning to this latest one very often. I guess it's just not my cup of tea.

'When Will You Die'