Wednesday, December 5, 2012

They Might Be Giants 5: Apollo 18

The public being as fickle as they are, TMBG’s fifth album didn’t exactly burn up the charts. It could be that the band had already converted their maximum density, and would have to rely on their cult audience. But that didn’t mean they were about to coast. Apollo 18 may not have as many memorable tracks as previous albums, but they pulled one gimmick to present something that literally hadn’t been done before.
“Dig My Grave” is a nice trashy opener, and while “I Palindrome I” isn’t as direct as “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Bob”, it still has some memorable lines (beginning with “Someday Mother will die and I’ll get the money”). “She’s Actual Size” and “My Evil Twin” would appear to be opposing Johns talking about people they know, and neither really register in the wake of “Mammal”, a straightforward science lesson. “The Statue Got Me High” was a single, and sounded like one, but “Spider” is thoroughly wacky, and therefore more satisfying. This is particularly apparent when followed by “The Guitar”, an interminable track that shares so much with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” that they were forced to add that title to the track and apply royalties accordingly. (R.E.M. would do the same later in the year for a much better song.) Much more entertaining is “Dinner Bell”, a dizzying litany of food and competing vocals over a jaunty piano.
“Narrow Your Eyes” provides an overdue return to the lost-love-with-alcohol song, which isn’t so obvious at first. “Hall Of Heads” would appear to be instrumental until a minute in with a shift to an entirely different melody. The brief “Which Describes How You’re Feeling” sounds like their old sound, which would make sense since it was one of their earliest songs. “See The Constellation” is upbeat and stupid, and while the intro suggests otherwise, “If I Wasn’t Shy” is pretty calm. It moves seamlessly into the hilarious situational horror of “Turn Around”. “Hypnotist Of Ladies” isn’t that exciting, but it doesn’t matter compared to what comes next.
The keen-eyed would have noticed that track 17 is called “Fingertips”, followed by track 38, the instrumental “Space Suit”. As it turns out, “Fingertips” is the overall title given to a series of 21 short songs, most only consisting of a single sentence or phrase, each a different melody. In today’s iTunes environment, each has its own title, but according to the original liner notes, they were designed to show up at random whenever the CD was played in shuffle mode. Therefore, it makes one wish such tracks as “I Hear The Wind Blow”, “Come On And Wreck My Car”, “Aren’t You The Guy Who Hit Me In The Eye?”, “Please Pass The Milk”, “Leave Me Alone”, “I Don’t Understand You”, “Mysterious Whisper”, “The Day That Love Came To Play” and “I’m Having A Heart Attack” were more than a few seconds long.
Using strict mathematics, it might be assumed that Apollo 18 is less than good. But as the highlights overshadow the lowlights, and the brevity of each of the “Fingertips” is so misleading, it becomes a worthy installment in their catalog.

They Might Be Giants Apollo 18 (1992)—

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