Wednesday, August 26, 2009

They Might Be Giants - Flood

Okay. Let's see if I can get through this one trying to use the word "wacky" as seldom as possible. Thesaurus, be my guide.

For sheer zaniness, They Might Be Giants reigns supreme among music groups. And to this minor fan, probably nothing in their catalog beats Flood. I mean, for starters, this is the album that produced the immortal, wacky "Particle Man," whose Tiny Toons video would be absolutely required viewing, were it not so inaccessible. (All the YouTube "Particle Man" videos have had the song amputated from the audio. Damn pesky copyright laws.) The single, "Birdhouse In Your Soul," is also insanely catchy and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Yep. Anyone looking for deep meaning in their music - or any meaning at all - should steer clear of this one. Rolling Stone got their panties in a bunch back in 1990 upon Flood's release. For example, they kvetched that although "Your Racist Friend" had a great message, it was ruined by a bouncing tympani and brassy horn bridge. Meh. So the message is good. Who cares? You don't go to McDonald's for health food, and for sure you don't listen to TMBG for resounding polemic.

TMBG - or to be accurate, the Johns Linnell and Flansburgh - exist in a world that is unendingly, deeply wacky. Their sense of reality is bounded by the likes of polka accordions and brass sections gone haywire, with lyrics that stretch puns to their absolute limit and turn everyday situations inside-out. But they have one serious command of pop music. Lincoln, the predecessor, proved all this admirably, but Flood took it to a new, more accessible, and ultimately more outrageously fun level.

It's hard to know where to start - there are just so many high points to this album. So how about "Letterbox," with the lyrics squished together almost unintelligibly: "Illneverknowwhatyoufindwhenyou openupyourletterboxtomorroooooooooow," for starters. The song practically dares you to keep up, much in a similar vein of "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." Just as weird, but much shorter. Then there's the hilarious "Minimum Wage," wherein...well, that's the lyrics, screamed out at the very beginning, followed by a "Hyaah!" and a whip crack. Oh yeah, and the 1950s kitschy background music for the next 45 seconds. Even one of the album's weaker moments, the relatively dirgelike "Hearing Aid," contains the immortal couplet "More coffee for me, boss/'Cause I'm not as messed up as I'd like to be." (Relatively. For these two guys, dirgelike means "midtempo and lasting longer than three minutes.")

Oh yeah...there's actual tunes, too. (And careful, now...they may not have full-out messages, but some do have plots and stories!) But even they verge on the realm of the commercial jingle, so snappy are they. The computerized handclaps and buzzing organ of "Twisting" belie a jilted girlfriend's desire to see her ex hanged, and screw those tapes and records she loaned him. "Dead" is a mock-ballad, with the two Johns accompanied only by a saloon piano, singing about God knows what. It sounds serious, but what do you make of lyrics like "I came back as a bag of groceries accidentally taken off the shelf before the date stamped on myself"? So it could be about mortality, or it could be about groceries. Either way is just fine, and there's no use trying to analyze it.

Just like "Particle Man" will always be tied with that hilarious Tiny Toons video, Flood is unalterably a product of its time - heck, the opening fanfare announces "It's a brand new record for 1990!" It was a record the cool kids listened to and enjoyed as their little in-joke - at least, the ones who had at least one gear running off keester. You know...the kids into drama or art or choir or the yearbook or the school newspaper. But I digress. Flood is and will always be dated, but it will also always be one of the most excellent albums of the 1990s. At least to this grown-up kid.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poor, poor Rachael Ray

I feel for Rachael Ray. Yeah, you heard me right. The bubbliest, perkiest, most annoying domestic cocktease since Denise Austin (who's so happy I'm convinced there's pathology there) gets my sympathy. Now, I know that the woman is set for life...if she never set food on another Food Network soundstage or wrote another cookbook, she'd be just fine.

It's that damned letter "a." Her parents, like so many nowadays, couldn't leave well enough alone and name her simply Rachel. Nope. Let's throw in a rogue letter that makes no sense to ensure the misery of our dear daughter, and to ensure that, despite her best attempts, people will forevermore be misspelling her name (to the tune of 1.3 million "Rachel Ray" misspellings listed on Google, people).

Probably anyone outside of "John Smith" can relate. I certainly can. I got so sick of people misspelling my name that when I got to college, I finally created a smartass retort to those sorry twerps. "Just like the Biblical character, only with an 's' at the end." Especially at a religious school, I figured that'd work. Except for one thing...these stupes misspelled the Biblical character, too. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Okay. Gotta back up here. Back in my spelling heyday, if anyone tried to foist someone's random name on me and dare me to spell it correctly, I'd claim immunity. (Still do, in fact, except that hardly anyone asks me, 20 championship spellers down the road.) There are so many variations to so many names that any attempt is doomed to failure. Words that have been in the dictionary for years and years, that's one thing. Names that end up having variations dreamed up by sadistic parents, that's another.

Hollywood parents lately have jumped on the "let's give our kids the dorkiest names we can so we can prove how Very Creative we are" bandwagon, and I pray, PRAAY that the rest of America doesn't follow suit. I really don't feel the need to go out of my way and find a link to emphasize this for ya, so Google yerselves silly, kids. But just one name: Shiloh Pitt. For all the piles o' shit that poor girl is gonna have to slog through for the rest of her life (and if she lives through middle school and high school, I'm buying her tell-all), her dumbfuck mom and dad deserve to do years of hard labor. (And Brad? A double sentence for abandoning Jennifer Aniston for that condescending celebutante who makes Greta Garbo seem approachable. And hey, Jen? You can pose nude for GQ again any ol' time you want. Yes, this is a gay man saying this. My straight brothers will totally back me on this, though.)

So my heart goes out to Rachael, but just for that one thing. And I wish a balsam-wood door slamming on her parents' heads for giving her a craptacular name. Oh yeah, and the same for her thousands, maybe millions of fans who adore her, know her, and can't get her damned name right, even though it's visible everywhere.