TMBG (as their fans call them, and it’s a lot easier to type so we will too) began as two guys named John presenting a truly original version of geek-rock, with the accordion being a central instrument and their tendency toward songs about science and American history. Imagine Ween without the drugs and you’re almost there. With one John handling the stringed instruments and the other tackling keys and horns, their earliest shows were accompanied by a meticulously programmed drum machine. Considering the processing that real drums had received in the ‘80s, the percussive sounds heard on their self-titled full-length debut album don’t sound any more fake that many other records of the time.
The album crams 19 songs into a program just under 40 minutes, and it’s safe to say nothing sounds like anything else. Many of the songs debuted on their “Dial-A-Song” answering machine greetings, so brevity was the soul. As many of the songs are simply sketches and not Grand Works of Art, a brief synopsis of the more substantial ones will have to suffice.
“Everything Right Is Wrong Again” is a built-in contradiction, using a plot point from the Lucy-and-Desi film The Long, Long Trailer as a key chorus element. Their first “hit”, “Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head”, crashes that away, and “Number Three” aptly delivers the third song in a transition to the next “hit” in “Don’t Let’s Start”. “Hide Away Folk Family” is one of the longer tracks on the album, with a round-style chorus, and the discovery too late that a backwards accordion doesn’t sound too different from a forward one. “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Clothes” and “I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die” are full of the wacky lyrics, music references and rhythm changes fans love. “(She Was A) Hotel Detective” gets a way-over-the-top vocal for a song that doesn’t deserve one. Being good pioneers of modern recording, “Boat Of Car” includes a Johnny Cash sample, while “Absolutely Bill’s Mood” is built around a literally phoned-in guitar solo.
They Might Be Giants didn’t set the world on fire, but it fit in perfectly with the rest of the stuff on college radio before the term “alternative” was coined. Our general impression is that one of the Johns didn’t take himself as seriously as the other, but for the most part they complement each other nicely. The album is like the people who created it: you’ll either like it or you won’t.
They Might Be Giants They Might Be Giants (1986)—3½