LOS ANGELES--They might be humorous, but the two men who make up off-center rock duo They Might Be Giants are definitely not a novelty act.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based pair's sixth full-length album, "John Henry," is solid proof of that, says vocalist John Linnell, who also plays accordion on the album.
"I'm in the unusual position of feeling like we've done a really good job on this album," says Linnell. "We were unusually prepared for this record. We had a larger selection of songs to choose from. This is not as ugly a record as we've made in the past."
The 20 rock-edged pop songs are full of infectious melodies and over-the-top lyrics. Titles like "Nyquil Driver" and "I Should Be Allowed To Think" reflect the diverse dysfunction that listeners can expect to experience within its grooves.
"Because they haven't had a clear top 40 hit in their career, most people don't realize that there is a significant core fan base that has been building for They Might Be Giants with each release," says Elektra VP of marketing Jeff Jones.
The label aims to bring the act to top 40 radio with the new album, due in stores Sept. 20.
The first single is the pop-driven "Snail Shell," which will be serviced to top 40 and modern rock radio Aug. 5. A commercial maxi-single, which contains a remix by the Dust Brothers as well as three unreleased tracks, will hit stores Aug. 16.
"I think that a lot of their humor goes over people' heads," says Gene Sandbloom, APD at Los Angeles modern rocker KROQ. "In the early '80s, there was a place for some of the happy-sounding alternative acts, such as the B-52s. The rock of the '90s is more serious, and They Might Be Giants fit right in with their intellectual humor."
Having only begun touring with a full band in the summer of 1992, the eclectic twosome's latest Elektra release marks the first time it has taken its newfound live sound into the studio. The duo's prolific songwriting and recent tour experience paid off when it came time to record.
"These songs are road-tested," says guitarist/vocalist John Flansburgh. "When it came time to make the record, it went very quickly. We probably spent about half as much time in the studio as we have in the past. Also, we recorded the music all together in the same room--which is a throwback to the '60s. It was a much more organic recording experience. It's very weird to be in a band for 10 years and then suddenly feel like everything is new."
Joining the band on its recent year-long tour, and on the record, are drummer Brian Doherty, bassist Tony Maimone, saxophonist and keyboard player Kurt Hoffman, and trumpet player Steven Bernstein.
"This is the biggest departure for me and John," says Flansburgh. "It's very personal to us. This is really different from touring as a duo, which is all that we had done up to that point. I think that this record is different, in that it has a 'bashy' rock quality to it that comes directly from our last road experience."
Another road well-traveled by the Giants is the information superhighway.
"They are aggressive on the Internet," says Jones, who notes that band member Linnell is a regular on the online network. "We're making sure that the online services have information about the new record. John [Linnell] has put together a free program that allows users to sample songs from the upcoming album, which is accessible on the Internet."
That freeware program contains 20 icon squares that, when selected, play a low-tech version of the songs available on the album. Linnell says that it has been available online since March.
"If you want to find out if people think you are fat, then check out the Internet, because it's all in there," Flansburgh says, laughing. He adds that the music bulletin boards are filled with an abundance of both positive and negative criticism of the duo.
The group has amassed a strong core following, in part due to its free "dial-a-song" service, now entering its 10th year.
"For some reason, the press is always afraid to print it," says Flansburgh. "So I want to go on record as saying that it's OK to call. The number is 718-387-6962, and callers will hear a different They Might Be Giants song every day. It's kind of like our pet. We feed it every month with new songs and then leave it alone. Actually, it's like a dead pet, but we feed it anyway."
Flansburgh has corralled some of the duo's core fans into his Hello CD Of The Month club, which he founded in 1993 with friend Marjorie Galen. That maill-order-only music club issues 10 discs per year and has featured original recordings by the Residents, Andy Partridge of XTC, and Frank Black.
Linnell, who is working on an interactive "Fifty State Songs" project that will feature a song for each state, is recording four of those songs for the Hello Club.