They Might Be Giants The Spine

[Zoe; 2004]

Styles: pop rock, quirky pop
Others: Fountains of Wayne, Camper van Beethoven, Ween

The first four They Might Be Giants albums sound like no other albums ever recorded. Those releases will forever be a curious footnote in the history of pop music because of their eccentricity, sheer enthusiasm, and hero-worship of pop itself.

And many bands have tried to replicate that sound in recent years. Fountains of Wayne have made a career of taking the pop-worship of They Might Be Giants to an extreme, sugarcoating sugar to create songs that do nothing but pop.

And that was cool. It worked. The Johns made friends with the dudes in FoW, and everything was pretty sweet. They Might Be Giants had a band to mentor.

But then, in 2003, the high school phenomenon that was "Stacey's Mom" occurred, and that hit turned the tables. They Might Be Giants want that big single, so now They Might Be Giants are trying to sound like Fountains of Wayne.

I mean, who are they fooling? "Memo to Human Resources," in both sound and concept, is an outtake from Fountains of Wayne's newest record, Welcome Interstate Managers. And both "Prevenge" and "Experimental Film," the two tracks the sticker on the CD tells me to listen to, are choked in big guitars and pop synths, a la Fountains of Wayne. You can barely hear either John on those two songs, what with all the textbook catchy instrumentation going on.

The Johns are being kicked off their own record, only appearing on awkward and hilarious seemingly-throwaway tracks: the short R&B companions "Spine" and "Spines" and the faux big band "Stalk of Wheat."

TMBG have always sounded best when their songs feel like a couple of geeks with geeky instrumentation invading a really great pop song, and those three songs prove the Johns still have the geek in them. The problem is the rest of the album sounds like a bunch of geeks invading songs with bland instrumentation. "It's Kickin' In" sounds like Linnell doing karaoke over a failed garage rock single, and most of the rest sounds like, well, Fountains of Wayne.

And that would be fine for any other band, but They Might Be Giants are not any band. They are the purveyors of weird pop. They wrote freakin' "Don't Let's Start" for goodness sakes! And the boys still have it in them. Their 2002 children's album, No!, was in many ways weirder than any other TMBG release. And The Spine's "Au Contraire" contains an accordion, even if the lyrical content seems cookie-cutter random (seriously, Mahatma Gandhi?). Let's just hope they cut a new record before another power pop band hits it big.

1. Experimental Film
2. Spine
3. Memo to Human Resources
4. Wearing a Raincoat
5. Prevenge
6. Thunderbird
7. Bastard Wants to Hit Me
8. The World Before Later On
9. Museum of Idiots
10. It's Kickin' In
11. Spines
12. Au Contraire
13. Damn Good Times
14. Broke in Two
15. Stalk of Wheat
16. I Can't Hide From My Mind

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