Nathan (vovat) wrote,
Nathan
vovat

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Why are the ocean levels rising up?

So, I guess this week's featured They Might Be Giants album is Flood. Before I get into it, though, I'd like to wish a happy forty-ninth birthday to a famous TMBG fan, "Weird Al" Yankovic!

So, anyway, Flood. From what I can tell, if someone is going to have only one TMBG album, it tends to be this one. The derogatory term "Floodies" is sometimes used to describe those who know only this one album, although I haven't seen it as much as of late. And it really is a good album, not my favorite, but steadily good and poppy all the way through. The only real problem with some of these songs is that I've heard them too many times.


Theme from Flood - I like the idea of starting out an album with a theme song, and I love the choral sound to this theme. The lyrics happily refer to people marching hand in hand, but also to rising ocean levels. Maybe these are the same people who were so happy when their heads were caving in.

Birdhouse in Your Soul - This is the big one, and deservedly so. I'm not sure there's a TMBG fan who DOESN'T like this song, and some non-fans must like it as well, since I'm pretty sure it made the charts in the United Kingdom. It's about a nightlight, but there's a lot more to it than that. This is one of the rare songs that I don't get tired of hearing live, although the rocking live version doesn't quite capture the emotion of the studio recording. It works well for live shows, though, so I can't really complain. Great video, too.

Lucky Ball & Chain - Another catchy break-up song, this time with a country kind of sound to it. The line about whistling "There Goes the Bride" is the reverse of one from a song that I think is called "Today I Met the Man I'm Going to Marry." I hadn't heard this song when I first listened to LB&C, but I've heard it plenty since then, as it was the hold music for one of the temp agencies I've worked for.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - This is one of the best-known TMBG songs, which is kind of a pity, seeing as how it's a cover. And it's a cover of a novelty song, a bit of an odd choice for a band that doesn't want to be seen as a novelty act. Maybe that wasn't the case back when they first started playing this song, though. And it's a GOOD cover, putting the band's own twist on an old song. Besides, if you've heard this song, you're never going to forget what Istanbul used to be called. The number has been part of the band's live repertoire for ages, and they've performed it in a variety of different ways, including a really sped-up version and an incredibly drawn-out one. As of late, they've often had Dan Miller play an extended acoustic guitar solo at the beginning.

Dead - I liked this song ever since hearing the enigmatic opening lines, "I returned a bag of groceries accidentally taken off the shelf before the expiration date. I came back as a bag of groceries accidentally taken off the shelf before the date stamped on myself." While a bit melancholy, it also seems like something a family would sing around the piano. (I have to credit bethje for that observation, which she made before we'd really started talking to each other. Who knew then that one day we'd get married?) This song comes and goes from the live set, and is usually welcome when it comes back, although there have been a few times when I went to several concerts in the same stretch of time and got rather bored with it.

Your Racist Friend - While a lot of TMBG's songs are introspective and/or lyrically silly, they also tackle some real issues. In this song, for instance, they point out that racism is bad. No, seriously, it's not really that trite. It's more about talking to someone at a party who's drunk and saying all kinds of racist things, and not accepting it when he apologizes afterwards. Makes sense to me. It's not like people suddenly become racist when they get drunk; they're just more likely to admit it.

Particle Man - Another one of the band's songs that people who don't really know the band like, maybe partially due to its usage on Tiny Toon Adventures. Well, at least that explained non-fans knowing it in the nineties; I'm not sure why they still do today. It's really not a bad song, but it's so overplayed that I've grown pretty tired of it over the years. Oh, well. At least it's short.

Twisting - One of the band's more clever puns, it's a twist song about a woman wishing to see her ex-boyfriend twisting in the wind (on a noose, I'm assuming). It also name-checks the Young Fresh Fellows, a band that I'd advise any TMBG fan to check out. They've become one of my favorite groups. As for "Twisting" itself, it's another one that's become a pretty common part of live shows.

We Want a Rock - One of my favorite Flood songs, with a fun violin part that sounds a bit Irish. I've heard there's also a banjo somewhere in the mix, but I can't hear it myself. Lyrically, it's very simple, but also very intriguing. If I'm making a TMBG mix, this is usually a sure bet for inclusion.

Someone Keeps Moving My Chair - I think this was the first song of the second side on the vinyl LP, which would explain why it sounds more like a new beginning than like something that really follows from "Rock." That said, it's still a great song, and I like the way John Linnell sings it. Incidentally, there were people on the alt.music.tmbg newsgroup who insisted that the line, "You have to try on these pants so the Ugliness Men can decide if they're just as embarrassing as we think" actually said "bag" instead of "pants." I'm really not sure how you can hear anything other than "pants" in this line, but there you go.

Hearing Aid - While most of Flood is rather straight-up pop music, this one returns to the old experimental vibe, with a weird synthesized trumpet, lounge-y vocals from John Flansburgh, and an ending that sounds like machinery breaking down. This makes a bit of an odd fit, but it does work in this position in a thematic way, since it's part of a trio of tracks about work sucking. Perhaps surprisingly, this song actually works really well live, yet it hardly ever gets played except when the band is performing the entire album.

Minimum Wage - A really short song that's all instrumental except for the title (well, and "heeeyah!", if you count that as a lyric) that everyone seems to love. I'm no exception, mind you. I like it when an instrumental has a title that really works even without words, and I think this is such a case.

Letterbox - I've heard that this was a pretty old song by the time they got around to putting it on an album, but it works well here. The lyrics are mostly typical Linnellian wordplay and catchy nonsense, at least as far as I can tell.

Whistling in the Dark - An early favorite of mine on this album, with fun music, oddly circular lyrics, and some great contributions from a horn section. When performed live, Flans beats out the rhythm on a marching bass drum, and Linnell never seems to manage to sing in as low a register as he does on the album.

Hot Cha - I've occasionally seen this on lists of people's least favorite TMBG songs, and I've never really understood why, as I like it a lot. One popular interpretation is that "Hot Cha" is actually Jesus. I doubt this was what Flans (assuming he was the one who wrote it) intended, but I can't be too sure. I mean, the lyric "drink and cook the prodigal son" does sound like it's basically a bizarre combination of the communion rite with one of Jesus' parables.

Women & Men - Like "We Want a Rock," it's a catchy song with simple but intriguing lyrics. Since the opening lyrics are about a ship running aground, it makes sense that it sounds like a sea chantey, heavy on the accordion. (Maybe a concertina would actually be more appropriate, but they're pretty similar, really.)

Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love - I like the way the Johns harmonize on this one. I like it, but it's not a song that I generally think much about. It's one of the first TMBG songs Beth heard, though (it was on a mix made by 3x1minus1). Also, when the band puts itself in the guise of a TMBG cover band, the name they use is "Sapphire Bullets."

They Might Be Giants - This song dates back at least as far as the 1985 demo tape, so I'm not sure why they didn't put it on the first album. Then the song title, album title, and band name would have all been the same. Maybe they weren't quite happy with it, though, as it underwent a fair amount of lyrical revision from one version to another. As interesting as I find the notion of Dr. Spock's back-up band, though, I kind of preferred the earlier lyric, "They might be yelling out 'albatross.'" Come on, how can you go wrong with a Monty Python reference? Still, the general sound remains largely the same, and the fact that it keeps stopping and starting makes for a neat effect. I think my personal favorite version of this song, however, is the one in which one of the Johns yells out, "Smells like human skin burning!" during one of the musical breaks.

Road Movie to Berlin - I'm not sure why they didn't use this title for the latest Family Guy episode, but that's neither here nor there. This isn't one of my favorite songs musically, although I do like the bombastic sound of the last instrumental break. It's pretty clever lyrically, though. When performed live, they usually include the line that was cut out of the studio version: "You said you were the king of liars, and I believed you and called you sire, but I realize now that I have been deceived." If they cut out a line like that, what they leave in must be pure gold!


I hope you enjoyed revisiting Flood as much as I did. And now I'm listening to Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, because that also came up when I searched for "Flood" in iTunes.
Tags: albums, tmbg
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