They Might Be Giants

Rolling Stone, April 9th, 1987
by Jim Farber

They're going to have to create a whole new category of weird to contain They Might Be Giants. After all, what other group around these days would release an album with nineteen songs that incorporate genres for art pop to country to polka, all operating under titles like "Youth Culture Killed My Dog"? Weirdest of all, in context the results don't seem at all perverse. In fact, beneath the jokes, They Might Be Giants might be the most unexpectedly catchy pop band since XTC.

On the debut indie LP from this self-contained New York duo (John Flansburgh and John Linnell), anything can happen. In "Boat of Car," the pair fuses what could be a vocal parody of Johnny Cash with Residents-style keyboards; "Number Three" presents a country honk cracked enough to land them on Hee Haw; and in "Rhythm Section Want Ad," John Linnell tosses in an accordion solo straight from bar mitzvah hell. Lead singer John Flansburgh pulls his share of permutations as well. A real "character" singer, he can manage conventional pop harmonies, as in the irresistably catchy "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," wild Jaggeresque vamps, in "(She Was a) Hotel Detective," and almost Zappa-like bellows, in "Absolutely Bill's Mood."

No matter how far afield the duo ventures, though, huge pop hooks always keep things firmly anchored. Also tying the genre gyrations together is a relentless, distanced irony, accented by hysterically evasive lyrics. "Life's just a mood ring we're not allowed to see," is typical of their high verse.

Unfortunately, this flip style may cause many to dismiss the group as just a wacky novelty act. But however zany their approach, a sense of commitment does come through as They Might Be Giants takes on youth culture's sacred cows with mocking glee.