Nathan (vovat) wrote,

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Factory Direct to You

I think it's about time we got to the sixth studio album by They Might Be Giants, Factory Showroom. This was released in 1996, and I started buying their albums in 1997, so it was the newest album at that point. Most of the reviews I'd heard from other fans were less than positive, but it wasn't like I was just going to skip over it. I do think it's probably the weakest of the first six studio albums, but it still includes some classic TMBG songs. It's also bethje's favorite, and the first TMBG album she obtained, so the negative reviews are hardly universal. It's definitely a change for TMBG, in that it has much longer songs and less of them. While all of the previous albums had at least eighteen tracks, this one has only thirteen, plus a hidden track on the CD version. The Johns apparently wanted to include some more songs, but the record company wouldn't have it, and a fair number of the outtakes showed up on Long Tall Weekend. Some of those are better than the songs that actually made the cut, but I'll get to that when I review LTW. I'll also get to the hidden track, "Token Back to Brooklyn," in that review, since it reappears there within the album sequence.

S-E-X-X-Y - Starting out the album with talking (even specifically referred to as "the talking part") is pretty cool, but I think this song is a bit long to be the opening track. I prefer a first track to pull you in, and get you ready for the rest of the album. This song is so self-contained (especially with its own instrumental outro) that following it up with another track sounds kind of weird. This isn't to disparage the song itself, though. It wouldn't have been my choice for lead single, but the funk sound (something John Flansburgh would explore a lot more thoroughly on the second Mono Puff album) is quite different from anything they've done before, yet still TMBG-ish.

Till My Head Falls Off - I love this song. It has such a driving, rocking sound to it, getting me back into things after the long wrap-up to "S-E-X-X-Y." There's a sense of determination to the lyrics, with a very John-like take on what will finally do in the stubborn, senile old man who's the narrator.

How Can I Sing Like a Girl? - Supposedly inspired by how Flans used to sing the high part in "She Was a Hotel Detective" (which is Linnell's voice sped up on the studio version) in falsetto, this is a cool song, but perhaps a little long. Did it really need two solos? Unnecessary song-lengthening might be the bane of this album in general.

Exquisite Dead Guy - More in the tradition of old-school TMBG than the preceding numbers, this is a fairly minimalist recording, with cello and simple lyrics. They used to perform this at live shows with ventriloquist dummy heads, but they ended up having a contest to give the heads away. I don't think they've played it much at all since then.

Metal Detector - This might be my favorite song on this album. It's fun, with its weird but bouncy synthesizer parts, and lyrics obsessing about an inanimate object. In other words, I think it's what a lot of us look for with this band. I think it partakes of Factory Showroom Lengthening Syndrome a bit, but it doesn't really bother me in this case.

New York City - I used to love this song, and I still don't think it's bad, but they've played it live so often that it's become rather tiresome. It's a cover, having originally been performed by the Canadian band Cub, which I believe has some connection to Neko Case. I think she might have drummed for them for a little while, and she's referred to Cub's Lisa Marr as "a lovely Canadian lady." I like the bells at the beginning of this song, and the guitar solo at the end, the latter of which is played by Frank Black collaborator Lyle Workman.

Your Own Worst Enemy - An intentional attempt to recapture the band's early sound, and I think it succeeded. Not only does it have the synthesizers, but it brings back the theme of a person at odds with himself.

XTC vs. Adam Ant - This one is not a favorite of mine by any means. The lyrics are pretty good, and it helped to get me interested in XTC. (I don't have any Adam Ant albums, though, so I guess XTC was the winner in my own collection.) I think one problem is that the guitar has too much of an ostentatious sound. I'm not someone who can generally discern the differences between the styles of different band members, but I can see why people don't really care for Eric Schermerhorn, the lead guitarist for most of this album. He's a bit too much of a guitar hero to really work well with TMBG.

Spiraling Shape - This is a pretty well-loved TMBG song, and hey, I like it as well. I wouldn't put it in a list of my all-time favorites, but I like all the musical changes, and the xylophone at the end is cool.

James K. Polk - The Johns have mentioned wanting to write a song about Polk simply because they didn't know that much about him, and it turned out that he accomplished quite a lot (and all in one term, too), although not all of it good. The song was originally a Flood-era B-side, and I think that version had more of an appropriately grand sound to it, but I do like the addition of a singing saw to the album cut. I've heard that the guy who plays it, Julian Kostner, is in Neutral Milk Hotel. I really don't know much of their music, even though I like other bands that tend to have overlapping fanbases.

Pet Name - I wasn't so keen on this song at first, but it's one of Beth's favorites, and I can't very well argue with my wife. :P No, seriously, it has grown on me over time. It's kind of a non-romantic love song, which makes for an interesting concept. Flans would later revisit the idea of disliking sentimentality in "First Kiss."

I Can Hear You - The first time I heard the song, I was amused by the opening, because I've heard some really early records and they all begin with someone announcing the title and the singer. I think that's usually followed with the record company, rather than where it was recorded, but hey. A wax cylinder recording is somehow very appropriate for TMBG, a band that's always been interested in sound.

The Bells Are Ringing - Another one that I really like, from the vocalist imitating bells at the beginning to the drum solo at the end. The lyrics once again pertain to easily swayed masses partaking in zombie mentality. Good way to end the album.

After FS, it's a bit difficult to discern what counts as an official album. If I have the time, however, I'll be covering both Severe Tire Damage and LTW next week.
Tags: albums, tmbg

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