They Might Be Giants, JOIN US

The Johns are back! After several kids' albums, They Might Be Giants return to quirky alternative rock with Join Us. This return is familiar, both for good and ill.

If you know They Might Be Giants, you know singers John Linnell and John Flansburgh combine fairly nasal vocals with quirky, bizarre lyrics. When it works, it's terrific fun; when it fails, it feels like strangeness for its own sake. And both are present on Join Us. There are catchy tracks, like the opening "Can't Keep Johnny Down" (with the winner of the fan video contest below), the fictional land "Canajoharie," or the happily evil "When Will You Die." Songs like these remind me why I keep listening to TMBG as they enter their third decade of making music.

Then there are the clever-for-its-own-sake songs. "Cloisonne" mentions Sleestaks just to ask what they are; "Protagonist" combines a fairly normal song with script directions, with no real payoff; the song "Three Might Be Dundee" exsists just so its title can sound like the band name; and "The Lady and the Tiger" takes the choices from the story and adds, well, laser-beam eyes. Songs like these feel like the band is trying too hard to be clever and experimental.

Join Us isn't a consistent album all the way through, but the gems outweigh the duds. The album ends with the Johns singing, "You Don't Like Me." Despite the weak spots on Join Us, yes, I still like you.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: