Three stars, Bar None
They Might Be Giants' debut album, They Might Be Giants, proved them to be masters of a kind of kitschy surrealism. By blending offhandedly demented lyrics with jaunty, jingle-like melodies, the Giants concocted tracks that were both catchy and perversely funny. On songs like "Rabid Child" and "Youth Culture Killed My Dog," they simultaneously saluted and subverted pop clichès by the barrelful.
Lincoln (named after the duo's Massachusetts birthplace) is every bit as eccentric as its predecessor, and even more eclectic. Fleshing out their core ensemble of electric guitars, an accordion and a drum machine with a host of other instruments, the Giants (John Flansburgh and John Linnell) deliver eighteen new mischevious and hook-filled ditties. Lurching from one idiom to another, they commandeer everything from stomping power pop ("Ana Ng" and "Purple Toupee") and salsa ("The World's Address") to ballroom jazz ("Kiss Me, Son of God").
But while the Giants roam all over the musical landscape, their lyrics remain suspended in a twilight zone of edgy weirdness. At times this penchant for the bizarre leads them into pointlessly sophomoric zaniness ("I saw my baby wearing Santa's beard"). More often, though, the undertone of nervous alienation keeps things from getting completely silly. "I find myself haunted by a spooky man named me," says the narrator of "Piece of Dirt." "I wish that I could jump out of my skin." At their best, the songs are peppered with wry wordplay reminiscent of Elvis Costello ("If it wasn't for disappointment, I wouldn't have any appointments").
Yet for all their quirky wit, it's the Giants' ability to churn out compact and punchy pop songs that makes Lincoln so instantly appealing. This knack may also account for the recent contract offer made to Flansburgh and Linnell by Elektra/Asylum. Now that they're graduating to major labeldom, it's nice to know that Lincoln captures the Giants with their freewheeling inventiveness very much intact. Daring to be odd, they've produced another oddly satisfying album.