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.

1 comment:

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