Those who grew up at the cusp of the technological revolution in the early 2000’s may recognize this duo of performers from Massachusetts, John Flansburgh and John Linnell, for their songs put out by Disney Records such as “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Theme” and “Hot Dog!” heard of the aforementioned Mickey Mouse Clubhouse children’s TV show. Though this may have been what our generation knows them for, their story is much bigger below the water.
In 1986, They Might Be Giants came onto the college radio scene with a self-titled debut album. Though a strong fan base had began following them, they did not see any initial success. Before this album, the two played around New York City, only producing one flexi-disc single in 1985. The combined effort of these two set the stone foundation for their future work.
The second studio album came out in September, 1988, titled Lincoln. The name comes from the hometown of the two band members where they met in high school. Recorded at the Public Access Synthesizer Studio, a part of Harvestworks Digital Media, which is now the TEAM Lab. The lead Single, “Ana Ng”, was a sudden hit in the US where it climbed to number eleven on the Modern Rock Chart. This success would later propel the two to add a supporting band consisting of a drummer, Bassist and Pianist.
My first introduction to They Might Be Giants came from an album I reviewed only last month. On the track “Cute Thing”, Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest writes about singing the song “Ana Ng” and trying to fit the name of the person his song is about in with its lyrics. It worked like a charm. After looking into the song, it lead me to the album which lead me to this wonderfully eclectic, witty band.
The song I can’t seem to stop talking about is also the first song on the journey that is the album Lincoln. It is also the longest song on the album, coming in at three and a half minutes. “Ana Ng” starts of the album with by far the best song writing and attention to production. The inspiration came from the unexpectedly large “Ng” section of the New York City phone book Flansburgh saw while recording the album. The rest of the album is unimpressive and outstanding at the same time. Songs like “Purple Toupee” hide hidden meanings and references to more serious topics like politics.
The only other song on this album that really stands out to me has to be “I’ve Got A Match” in the album. The pacing is closer to rock of the early 50’s with a mix of international folk sound, the power of the chorus is beautiful and holds up to any modern indie rock song. All of this complexity brings this song to a whole new level and really stands out on this album.
The vocals on “They’ll Need A Crane” flow in a creative way that sets the second half of this album apart. How they talk about heartbreak on this song is fascinating for the 1980’s and as refreshing now as ever.
In all, what holds this album back is how scarce the good songs are. If there was less bloat on this album there might be an amazing album in here. Songs like “Cowtown”, “Mr. Me”, “You’ll Miss Me”, and “Snowball In Hell” give this whole thing a feeling like they didn’t put much effort in. I think pushing the album to 18 songs on the time and money budget they had was what killed it.
But that’s not to say this is a bad album. Songs I’ve mentioned previously are honestly special ear candy. Certain parts of this album deserve your time. What is nice about almost all the songs being under two minutes is the mediocre parts go by a lot quicker. it feels like an album filled with excruciatingly long transitions before the real good parts.
This 2018 repressing on translucent red vinyl is absolutely gorgeous, and the blueprint-like design on the label is a cool addition. The cover art is just as abstract and question raising as some of the songs behind it.