More than 30 years ago now, They Might Be Giants introduced a mix of nerdy, quirky, silly, heady, fun to rock and roll. That’s the kind of thing that could get real old real fast. But here we are, in 2015, and their schtick is still too timeless, original and just plain great to be called schtick. From the lo-fi, 8 track, piano accordion fuelled super early days, to the late 80s mainstream peak, to making kids albums around the turn of the century, to settled in elder statesman, a new They Might Be Giants record has become an expected and welcome comfort. Every two or three years, the Johns Flansburgh and Linnell are there for us, with a fresh batch of They Might Be Giants nerdy, quirky, silly, heady, fun rock and roll. And this year, they kept it rolling with Gleam.
Early on, Underwater Woman offers a funked up bass line, with swinging horns, while telling the story of the titular watery bint. There’s a slightly off putting feel that makes this song a little on edge in a really cool way. Evoking the Romany fiddle feel that’s been a part of some of the best live versions their classic Istanbul (Not Constantinople), Music Jail Pt. 1 & 2 sounds like its from some grand, Europe based musical. And as Part 2 changes tone to be all jaunty guitar and snare drum, that musical feel only grows, like we’ve moved from one scene to the next.
Only this band could mix dark, almost heavy guitars, with funky wahed guitars, with the nasal Flansburgh / Linell style of vocals on I Can Help the Next In Line, and come out with something that isn’t a big mess. Then, go straight into Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel. Its beautiful piano, soft vocals, a sleep energy that’s still driving, all delivering a fully formed world and story.
Gleam never offered up anything surprising, but in 2015, that’s not really what I’m looking for in a They might Be Giants album. They already invented an entire genre of music, so I’m more than happy for them to explore that genre and do what they do best for as long as they want. If they can continue to release albums of this quality every few years, then I’m happy to slap down money for the records and the live shows just as often.