Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
Apart from Flood and Apollo 18, I don't often listen to TMBG albums. Mostly, I like a fair amount of songs, but some of them just ... don't affect me. I can't remember the last time I listened to their early work, until I put together this combination of their first two albums: They Might Be Giants and Lincoln. It's called Stovepipe Hat because I prefer Abe to Nebraska.
She's An Angel is a nice little surreal story about love in the time of anxiety, which is all times when you're the subject of a TMBG song. And who wouldn't want to fall in love at a dog show. 1.) You get to be at a dog show. 2.) You meet someone cool enough to also be at a dog show AND they fall in love with you? Best Meet Cute Story ever. Also, props for not having to throw your body off a building.
The song I am most grateful for having an excuse to listen to more often is Kiss Me, Son Of God, which really sounds like it belongs on Flood. The blood of the exploited working class is also one of those things that I hear is delicious, but I'm just not into tasting myself.
The countrified Number 3 is the most Throwaway Novelty song that I like from their early work. I vacillate between really enjoying the hoe-down quality to regretting including this song on the album. It's, at least, short.
Ana Ng sounds like it comes much later in their discography. There's so much narrative in this song. It's a short story disguised as a peppy "alternative" 80s song.
My grandfather owned boats. Not just things that floated on the water (which he only owned one at a time, unless you count dinghies), but also giant cars that my family always referred to as boats. The kind of cars you could fit a dozen children in the back of. Boat Of A Car reminds me of the few road trips we took in those vehicles.
I was tempted to put TMBG's Homestar Runner songs around Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head but they'll come on a later album. I like any song that makes me think of muppets. Even if it has an 80s drum breakdown.
Pencil Rain actually sounds like it could have come from The Smashing Pumpkins post-Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness period. But without the whiney Billy Corgan voice. It's the harp / keyboard with the horns in the background. But I really enjoy the whole concept of pencil rain. Sometimes I gotta write things down, and am without writing implement.
If there's a better song title than Youth Culture Killed My Dog on a TMBG album, I can't think of it. I like the title so much that I included it on the album even though the song is a bit too All Over The Place in tone for me to get into. The Michael Jackson hee-hees are fun, and the return of the word puppet are great but the overall senitment of the song is pretty bleurgh.
Lie Still Little Bottle is the closest thing on this album to a Tom Waits song (he's the other artist I'm reimagining albums for right now). I would totally buy both an album where TMBG covered Tom Waits songs, and one where Tom Waits covered TMBG songs. The fact that neither of these albums exist fills me with sadness.
The plaintive narrator of I've Got A Match brings me disproportionate feelings of joy. If I were wearing a stupid looking hat, I would take it off at their command.The plucky strings on this song are also made of expansive joy.
Is Chess Piece Face the inspiration for TMBG's Apollo 18 album? Because it definitely has the appropriately fuzzy guitar and echoey vocals. It is the first song on the album that made my Dudefriend make a sour face. Again, though, it's mercifully short.
I was once bitten by a Rabid Child when I was a teenager. I worked in a summer camp when a tiny vampire who was mad at a different adult, grabbed my head, pulled it toward him and bit me on the neck. This song references the Chess Piece Face from the previous song. Though, I couldn't explain why without looking at the lyrics.
I was not a Rabic Child, but you could argue I was occasionally feral, and during those feral times, I did love playing with a Piece Of Dirt. I am fortunate enough to be immune from the wiles of the voices that bother and influence the narrator of this song.
You made my bed / Now you have to sleep in it might be my favorite lyric on this album. It's near the beginning of Stand On Your Own Head which has a return to the hoe-downiness foundearlier on the album.
They'll Need A Crane is the second best song about cranes I think of. Jason Mraz gets top honors there. But I do enjoy the bounciness of the repetition in this song.
I don't know why I so much want to make a video for Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes but I do. Dancing skeletons? People with heads caving in from happiness? Dominoes? The crunchy guitars. Random screaming at the end. Sign me up and give me a camera and some SAG unapproved extras.
Speaking of screaming. Shoehorn With Teeth is a terrifying concept. I don't know what else to say about it. Deathlok should have covered this track.
It brings me stupid joy to put a song called Don't Let's Start near the end of an album.It's another echoey song with a very late 80s/early 90s guitar riff repeating in the background.
Another contender for my favorite lyric on the album: If it wasn't for disappointment / I wouldn't have any appointments. Snowball In Hell is a fun, talky way to close out this album.
I respect the hell out of a good novelty band or artist. I was fourteen when my mother tried to convince me not to waste my money on Right Said Fred's album Up. When I first started hosting potry slams, the prize I gave to the last place finishers was a copy of the MC Skat Kat album. You know, the cartoon who danced with Paula Abdul in the "Opposites Attract" video. I love and fully support Weird Al Yankovic's near half-decade career of weird. But.
But I can't listen to their music for too long. I haven't been able to listen to a full Yankovic album since probably the same year I bought into Right Said Fred. I'll occasionally hear and appreciate a new song by him, but I don't need to hear it again, or buy the album. Even the old albums that I loved and owned when I was younger.
In many ways, They Might Be Giants is a novelty band. Their music is often fun, often weird, and sometimes written specifically for children or commercials. But, unlike other bands of their style, I do find myself wanting to sit down and listen to a full album of their work. But.
But I don't like how they're structured. This is especially true of Apollo 18, which concludes with twenty-one songs between seven and thirty seconds. The brief songs are great, but, if they had to be grouped together, I'd rather have them at the beginning, as though you were flipping through commercials to get to the rest of the album. That's not what I've chosen to do here, though. Instead I've used those "Fingertips" songs to bridge the other tracks on the album. I think it gives the whole thing more cohesion, while maintaining some of the weird. I hope you appreciate it as much as I do.
Start your space dreams young. Dream moongrab. Dream starwish. Dream astronaut. Dream aliens. Get your dreams into some science. Make your wishes improbably possible. Reach for stars. See The Constellations (I Walk Along Darkened Corridors). Rock out with your meteorite out. Dance a comet tail. Do that thing all teenagers do, where they imagine the citylights are constellations. Don't be original. Be a fun, familiar, weird. Not offputting. Celestial. This is such a fun mantra filled declaration of teenage wont. Grab it. Dance it around your room.
Some day mother will die, and I'll get the money. I Palendrome I (Hey Now Everybody) continues the weird. It's an insectile guitar. It's chirpy percussion. It's a chorus of crickets singing about snakes. I wish I could call it a lunar luau, but it's too cold. Too dancing in the vacuum of space. There's barely any air in this song, so don't waste any time breathing.
It's all sci-fi in here as My Evil Twin (Who's That Standing At My Window) has a touch of brass in its montagey and only slightly sinister keyboards. I wish this was somewhere in the Leslie Nielsen movie Naked Space (aka The Creature Wasn't Nice), a movie which terrified me when I was six.
Death is twangy. Death is punk background vocals. Death is wonk organs. Every time you call my name / I hear the angels sing. Death is Dig My Grave (Come On Wreck My Car). Death is two mercifully short songs stitched together.
Everything comes down a notch. Dirgey. Circus dirgey. Bass-lickey. If I Wasn't Shy (All Alone), is a series of humdrum confessions that sound decreasingly fantastical. But you just want to snap your fingers to this tune, as you slowly walk down a darkened alley.
Muppet vocals. George Takei promises. Superhero snippet song. Ohhhhhh. Spider (I've Found A New Friend) is the kind of bizarre that would have seemed right at home on Queen's soundtrack to The Flash.
Leave Me Alone (Which Describes How You're Feeling All The Time) brings that circus vibe back. A carousel of conflcting constant feelings. Blissful nausea. Solipsism. Relgious questioning. Everything vague. But in rhyme. Which describes how you're feeling all the time. Ehhh.
The intro is straight out of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Particularly Columbia from the Official Sountrack. And then, Brad takes the vocals for a song about The Fifty Foot Woman. (Someone Grab A Hold Of Me) She's Actual Size. It's a lovely sci-fi romp with a prominent brass section.
(Mysterious Whisper) The Statue Got Me High is a climb not a trip. It's scrambling atop the fifty foot woman. The monumantal woman. The atomosphere explodes.
(Who's That Knocking On My Door) Hypnotist Of Ladies infers that maybe that monumental woman used to be an actual woman, but she was hypnotized by some gross dude who is charming, but otherwise no damned good.
If you're looking for more narrative in your TMBG songs, look no further than (What's That Blue Thing Doing Here) Turn Around. Oh, it's still a bit vague about what the narrative is trying to say, other than some interpretive dancing guy is pushed into a grave by his dancing instructor, and lands on a skull. Typical Thursday.
Dinner Bell (I Heard A Sound) mentions what happend when you turn around, and then, the dinner bell rings. Have you ever had a parent with a literal dinner bell? Before cell phones, or pagers, even, my mother used to ring this ludicrously loud bell to get me to go home. When we moved (down the street and to the left), she gave the bell to the people who moved into our old house, and the mom in that family was crackers crackers and would ring that bell and screech for so long, parents offered their children money and video games to dress up as this woman's daughter and get her to shut the shut up. This song is not nearly as annoying as that. Ding Ding Ding!!!
Romantic tropes were alread boring in the eighties. Gender norms were tired in the nineties. And tha narrator of this song doesn't want to be a traditional suitor, so he asks you (Aren't You The Guy Who Hit Me In The Eye) to Narrow Your Eyes, and see his love from a different perspective. Then they'll have a nice friendly breakup because their relationship is totally not working.
After some brief lyrics from the parenthetical title, (I Hear The Wind Blow) Space Suit, we get a cool, sci-fi instrumental that really does sound a bit like how early-twentieth century writers who didn't understand space might imagine wind sounded in space.
The reason I originally purchased this album was for The Guitat (I'm Having A Heart Attack / I Just Don't Understand You). I love this update of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" with its brass beat, its disaffected background vocals, and its enthusiastic lead vocalist. I epescially love its brass noise break, followed by the drums and guitar bridge. And it's lovely bass riff, of course. It's just a super fun happy song. But then it gets thrown into the subdued statements of everything going awry.
(Everything Is Catching On Fire) Hall Of Heads is very very very Futurama. Or, rather, Futurama is very this song. The Hall Of Heads seen through a keyhole, then heads pitched at you whle you try and leave. Try not to picture Fry and Leela at some point. It can be done, but it's difficult.
I drop the rest of the (Fingertips) songs here. There aren't that many, and they thematically link from one to the next before arriving at Mammal, which feels like a callback to the scientific research of "Why Does The Sun Shine" or "Why Does The Sun Really Shine". I'm unclear why this didn't end up on their Here Comes Science album.
Closing out the album is more spy-themed eighties movie than sci-fi, but I really love the bouncy quality of Happiness Doesn't Have To Have An Ending. But the album does have to come to a close. Don't worry! There are plenty left.
Thirty years ago, They Might Be Giants put out their first major label album, Flood. It's astounding. It's totally upbeat. It's weird, but not offputting. It would clearly make a great lover. But when you listen to the lyrics, it becomes something else. Anxiety. It's almost like one long panic attack. Sure everything seems inoccuous. But that's the thing. Almost anything anxiety inducing can seem innocuous. That's how it gets you.
We open with the Opening Theme, naturally. But it quickly segues into Istanbul (Not Constantinople). Arguably their most timeless song. A surprisingly fantastic background tune for a doughnut store shootout, and help with a very basic trivia question. I'm imagining most people know this song. But if not, it's a cover of a Four Lads song with heavier drums, more modern sounding vocals, better production, and a slightly faster tempo, but otherwise, a faithful fun cover. A song to play at a party. A song you can dance awkwardly to. It's the only way to dance to it.
Man, if there was ever a song from the 1980s that rings true in the 2010s and 2020s, it's They Might Be Giants's Your Racist Friend. This could be the theme song for the very few parties I attend. It should be the anthem of so so so so so so so so so many people I know. It has a killer basic-bones guitar solo that leads into a festive trumpet solo. And it's just so consistently relevant.
I think of the racist friend as Mister Horrible, who is also the lead character of Someone Keeps Moving My Chair. The chair is tolerance and basic human dignity, and the racist Mister Horrible keeps moving the chair (or goalposts) to get under the skin of the other people at the party. It's a technique that totally works on most people, as they get so frustrated at the constantly changing goalposts that they give up even trying to reason with Mister Horribles.
In fact the frustration makes you feel like a returned bag of groceries. Or Dead tired. What were the people who witnessed the confrontation thinking of? Why didn't they intervene? Why didn't they warn you how awful that person would be? Or is it you? Oh god. Were you overreacting? No. No. Mister Horrible was a bigoted asshole. Why are you feeling bad about this? Ok. You need to stop isolating yourself and actually start antagonizing people like that. Or ... or will that make you like them? You're just going to have to stay home an only socialize with people you trust forever.
You've still got this on my mind as you head back to your Minimum Wage job. A muzak based up-tempo carnival blah.
Lucky Ball And Chain breaks through the instrumental. It's about realizing that the perfect person left you because you didn't have your shit together. You totally took them for granted while you were being your own mess of anxiety. Oh God. This happy album is just constantly battling the depression of every day life. Your inability to handle conflict or properly appreciate loved ones is ruining your life in totally avoidable ways. What are you doing with your life?
The thing is ... the person who left you? She's not the most important in the world. You're not the most important person in her world. But she wants to see you again. Slowly Twisting. Life is constantly like this. People wanting imperfect things. It's okay to be imperfect.
Not everyone can be stable. Oh sure, We Want A Rock to lash our life to. But it's not out there. Everything is a mess of jangly string instruments and Casio keyboards. Life is upbeat soft rock songs about how terrible life is, and how we always want what we don't have. It sounds relentlessly happy if you don't pay any attention to the lyrics.
Scattershot xylophone and ringing Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love will hit you if you're not careful. Love won't save you, though. Certainly not if you're imagining them as a violent explosion of gunshots. Best not to dwell on it for more than a minute and a half or so.
It's best to just to try and be the best you you can possibly be, right? Isn't that what all self-help is really about. And your anxiety means you need help. But you don't want anybody else to help because you hate asking people for help, so self-help is the best way to go, right? It's not just Whisling In The Dark, is it? But what ... if ... you don't know which part of your self is the best part? Nevermind. Everything will be fine. Is fine. Whistling. Whistling. Dark. Dark.
We take a break from your regularly scheduled anxiety to present some scientific facts. In this peppy number we explain Why Does The Sun Shine. Doesn't it feel great to talk about something you're an expert at that certainly won't ever be proven wrong. Science! Enjoy these permanent facts about the sun!
Good work, Particle Man. Yeah, that's right. You used to get teased in school because you liked science. So many stupid nicknames. Oh, and you liked geometry. Why was everything you loved so derisible? Oh well. Don't dwell on the past. School if so far in your rearview.
OH NO. It turns out that everything you knew about the sun has been proven wrong. The education system is constantly failing us because the present, on its way to becoming the future from sci-fi novels keeps presenting us with new information that helps us understand Why Does The Sun Really Shine.
Ugh. Everything everything everything is always changing. How can you handle now without knowing how the future will change the prespective on what you've done? (You)'ll never know what you'll find When you open up your Letter Box tomorrow.
Anxiety is so stressful. Sometimes you just want to put some bacon on the oven and walk away from your life without explanation. Hot Cha. The piano and the kick drums shake your shoulders as you imagine just escaping.
Let's put on some traveling music, and sneak out this glass of bourbon and drink along to your new life as A Road Movie To Berlin.
Oh dear. The bourbon is messing with your sense of self and reality. Everything is starting to sound weird. Your voice is hiccuping. There's some strange birdsong. The lyrics kaleidoscope. They could be important. Or They Might Be Giants. Boy.
Put in your reality Hearing Aid and start trying to make sense of things again. Sober up. Go home. Or, at least, somewhere where people could use you. Oh no. Work. Ooof. Yea, that will sober you up. The job you're not paid enough to survive at, overseen by someone who doesn't know what they're doing, either. Is this some sort of weird The Bad Place type of deal you're living in?
The music fades out. There is a constant drumming. An explosion of noise. A fuzzy guitar. Like, a fan blade or something? Something miniscule at work scrapes your brain. Then, you get distracted from the tedius fan blade by a procession of Women And Men who present you with positive reasons to keep going. At work. At your house. Everywhere you go. You're through it. You can make a Birdhouse In Your Soul. You can move on. Hooooooooooooooooooooooo. Not to put too fine a point on it.