Friday, November 2, 2012

They Might Be Giants 2: Lincoln

TMBG’s second album continued along the same path as their debut—two guys with a drum machine too clever for most people to follow—but manages to improve on that blueprint. For one, there’s less reliance on wordplay for its own sake, making the subjects of the songs much more direct. That, plus a continued variety of song styles, makes Lincoln the superior album.
For starters, one might assume that one or both Johns had suffered a romantic breakup. “Ana Ng” displays a longing for an unattainable partner, complete with an excellent “broken record” effect built directly into the arrangement. “I’ve Got A Match” is as straight a pop song as they’ve ever written, about two people who can barely stand each other, underscored when followed by the twist of “Santa’s Beard”, wherein Mommy seems to be doing much more than kissing Santa Claus. “You’ll Miss Me” is fairly chaotic but clear once the lyrics come through, and the otherwise catchy “They’ll Need A Crane” details the end of a romance.
Lest anyone think they’re too serious, other topics are explored. “Purple Toupee” presents a wonderful distortion of ‘60s turmoil from the point of view of someone who just didn’t get it. “Shoehorn With Teeth”, with an instrumental backing consisting solely of saxophones, accordion and three glockenspiel notes, always seems to be “about” something but probably isn’t. “Snowball In Hell”, however, stands a bunch of clichés on their heads to bemoan the horror of menial labor. “Kiss Me, Son Of God” is a hilarious portrait of a egotist responsible for much pain and suffering (“I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage called the blood of the exploited working class… I destroyed a bond of friendship and respect between the only people left who’d even look me in the eye”) to the snappy accompaniment of violins.
Not everything has to have deep meaning, of course. “Cowtown” is best remembered for the wonderful scream sample on each break, while “Cage & Aquarium” seems to be an excuse to make fun of a certain song from Hair. “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go” sports a dizzying spiral format, a pointedly anti-melodic chorus (“You’re free to come and go, or talk like Kurtis Blow”) and a terrific guitar solo repeated over the fade. “Pencil Rain” also has a big guitar solo, and marches along in a suggestion of reaching something more than it does. “Mr. Me” is just plain fun, a first in string of unique cartoon characters in TMBG tunes.
With only 18 songs under 40 minutes this time, and the high potential to fall victim to a limited scope, Lincoln still manages to cover a wide range of territory. The album would become a beloved classic among the Comic-Con crowd, and set the dynamic duo up for that coveted major-label cash.

They Might Be Giants Lincoln (1988)—4

1 comment:

  1. I was introduced to this band when we took our then 2 1/2-year-old to a free kids’ concert in 2009. We then went to another kids’ concert the following year. They were really entertaining both times, but even stranger the second time around, with a puppet show in the middle performed by the Johns that was just plain bizarre. Included in the setlist for the second show was “Cowtown”.

    That, of course, led me here. Quirky, clever, sardonic, and catchy pop music which NEVER panders to the audience or treats listeners with condescension. It’s hard to pick favorites, but "Kiss Me, Son of God" (which reminds of a certain political figure who came to prominence 30 years later), "Piece of Dirt", “, “Santa's Beard" and, of course “Cowtown” stand out for me.

    I can understand why you gave it at 4, although I’m a bit less enthusiastic. I can understand why some people might find TMBG annoying. Sometimes, you have to be in the right mood. I, myself, like the album more now than when I first heard it ten years ago.