Friday, November 16, 2012

They Might Be Giants 3: Flood

By the advent of the CD era, Elektra Records had developed into one of those labels that wisely kept releases to a minimum, maintaining a lean roster that kept an eye on the past while taking a few chances on what could be considered college rock (before it evolved into adult alternative). Having seen success with 10,000 Maniacs, the Cure and Tracy Chapman, they signed They Might Be Giants and gave a big push to their third album.
That big-budget backing made Flood something of a hit, a deserved result considering the quality therein. Despite some production assistance and even the use of—gasp!—a real drummer, it’s still a quirky TMBG album, slathered in accordion and wacky samples. Just the way we like it.
After the brief fanfare of an actual theme song, “Birdhouse In Your Soul” is a simple song sung by a nightlight. Some discord occurs in the bridge, but it’s redeemed by the lyrical comparison to a picture of a lighthouse (“I’d be fired if that were my job/After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts”). “Lucky Ball & Chain” is related to Led Zeppelin’s “Hot Dog” both thematically and musically, another lost love song, countered by “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, a combination cover and history lesson, here given a very appropriate Eastern accompaniment. “Dead” is another favorite, a rumination on reincarnation or the lack thereof loaded with great rhymes. “Your Racist Friend” is a fairly straight narrative, with any tension deflated by “Particle Man”, a hilarious comparison of fictional superheroes. “Twisting” takes its title from the suggestion in the Farfisa organ riff, and is probably the only end-of-romance song to reference the dBs and the Young Fresh Fellows. The title of “We Want A Rock” would appear to be a pun on a certain Twisted Sister song, but instead becomes a universal yearning for pieces of string and prosthetic foreheads.
“Someone Keeps Moving My Chair” remains an enigma, but no more so than “Hearing Aid”, the longest track at three-and-a-half minutes and a continuation of some of the more experimental moments on their first two albums. “Minimum Wage” provides an interlude and a sorbet in its silliness, and the rest of the album follows suit. “Letterbox” is sung at top speed and in close harmony. “Whistling In The Dark” has something of a martial feel with a touch of motivational speaking. “Hot Cha” goes by quickly enough to make way for the twisted sea chantey of “Women & Men”. “Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love” turns out to share a title with a song by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and also gets out of the way for the almost closing theme of “They Might Be Giants”. Instead, the final scene of the audio movie is “Road Movie To Berlin”, starting nice and quiet, going through a big middle section, and ending anticlimactically.
Flood has become so popular over the years that TMBG has occasionally performed it in concert in order, to the delight of fans. And even though it was “a brand new record for 1990”, it still sounds fresh and fun today. While Lincoln is still the better album, Flood deserves the rating below.

They Might Be Giants Flood (1990)—4

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