Nathan (vovat) wrote,

  • Music:

The Long Tall Gap

I first started really getting into They Might Be Giants in 1997, which probably wasn't the best time to do so. It wasn't long after that that they left their recording contract with Elektra, and started shopping around for a new label. Prior to that, they'd put out an album about once every other year, but the schedule became much more irregular after this. On top of that, they stopped the trend of numbering their albums for a little while. FS was the sixth album and The Spine the tenth, and I would assume Mink Car and No! were the eighth and ninth. But what counts as the seventh? In the years between 1996 and 2001, they put out two new albums, but one was mostly live and the other an Internet-only release. I'd say it's the online album, Long Tall Weekend, that should count as #7, but the Johns really don't seem to acknowledge it anymore, so I don't know.

The live album, Severe Tire Damage, is probably my least favorite of the band's full-length releases. They included songs from several different concerts, which SHOULD have allowed them to come up with a quality collection, but they still ended up with a fair number of sub-par recordings. I really think more preparation should have gone into its creation. Still, it has its moments, and it's the first TMBG album that I bought on the release date.

Doctor Worm - The feel-good hit of the summer of '98! Okay, it really wasn't, but it SHOULD have been. Oddly enough, the lead single on this live album isn't a live recording, but a studio one. This was one of the first TMBG songs that I was familiar with before its official release, having watched the GiantCam video that John Linnell made for the demo version. The main things that were added after that were a bridge and a bass solo (allegedly played by Rabbi Vole). This recording also features horns, which were a nice touch.

Severe Tire Damage Theme - Another studio recording, this time a pretty cool instrumental that serves as the theme song for this odd smorgasbord of songs.

They Got Lost - An amusing song about the band getting lost on the road, which tends to get less funny every time you hear it. It's still a fun listen, though.

Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas) - A fast rock version of a song from an old record called Space Songs, and written by the same people as "Unchained Melody." They released a slow version that sounded a lot more like the original on an EP in 1993, but the fast take is more fun. When they perform this live, they often throw in jokes while listing gases on the Sun and the elements in the nuclear reactions, so I'm disappointed they don't in this recording. Maybe they thought the humorous bits would get old fast. I don't know.

Birdhouse in Your Soul - While not a slow song to begin with, this song also gets a faster, more enthusiastic treatment at live shows. I think it doesn't quite have the heart of the Flood version, but it's more exciting.

She's an Angel - From the John Henry era, this version includes horns and some lines of the verses sung very quietly. This was originally released on a live promo CD, and you could hear John Linnell saying something that sounds like, "Like now" after the first chorus. It's still there in this mix, but not anywhere near as noticeable.

XTC vs. Adam Ant - There's a clear tendency for live albums to be heavily weighted toward songs from the band's most recent studio album, and this one is no exception. It includes three songs from Factory Showroom (more than from any other record except Flood), none of which are played live very much anymore. I didn't really care for this one in its studio version, and the live version doesn't improve things. In fact, I think it's a bit worse.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - A horn-heavy version of the live staple. It's not one of my favorite versions of the song (although it beats the really drawn-out ones), but I appreciate that they did something different with it.

Ana Ng - As much as I like this song, I can't say this is a particularly good version of it, and I'm not really sure why. It just comes off sounding a bit dull and sloppy.

First Kiss - The first release of this song, before it was re-recorded in a slower and not as good studio version (with a slightly altered title) for Mink Car.

Spider - I think the Johns included this because it gave them a chance to ham it up.

Particle Man - While I've gotten rather tired of this song, I guess they pretty much had to include it, and this is actually a good recording of it. Very energetic, and I like the drums during the line about Person Man being hit on the head with a frying pan.

She's Actual Size - This became a really tedious part of live shows when John Flansburgh started singing the second half very slowly, but this recording predates that, and I have to say it's one of my favorite performances of this song. The horns add a lot, and Flans gets a chance to indulge his inner lounge singer.

S-E-X-X-Y - Another FS song that doesn't really gain anything from being performed live. I love the introduction, though.

Meet James Ensor - A fun little minimalist version recorded on the floor of a hotel room, with only an accordion for accompaniment. It's amusing to hear the Johns sing the solo.

Till My Head Falls Off - I do enjoy this version of the song, but it doesn't really add that much to the original studio recording, and I think there are other songs that would have worked better on this album. Oh, well. There would have been plenty of WORSE choices, too.

About Me - A somewhat pointless song that might have been thrown on at the end because none of the other tracks would have worked as closers. Of course, this isn't REALLY the end of the album, as there are seven bonus tracks. They've been referred to as "hidden tracks," but I wouldn't say that's entirely accurate, since any CD player can tell they're there.

Planet of the Apes - All of the bonus tracks are at least tangentially related to the Planet of the Apes films, and the majority of them are from bootleg tapes, hence the poor sound quality. Why they didn't just record them themselves is beyond me, but this whole album seems to suffer from lack of preparation. As a song, this isn't that great, but I do like the chimes.

Return to the Planet of the Apes - The most unintelligible of the whole batch, and one of only two that isn't based on an actual movie. I like the bit about Cornelius' cape being toffee rather than tan, but I remember someone saying that his cape really wasn't either of those colors. I haven't seen any of the movies myself (the first is on my Netflix queue), so I can't verify this.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - Primarily made up of pseudo-rhymes for the word "conquest," this is amusing as far as it goes, but it really doesn't go that far.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes - Perhaps my favorite of the Apes songs, this one has a disco song and a high-pitched vocal from Flans. They did a totally different song with the same title at another show, but I don't think it worked out very well.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes - The point of this one is that the audience cheered for the people when the band was playing, and for the apes when the Johns were playing. You can't hear them all that well, though, so it mostly just comes off as a mediocre instrumental jam.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes - This one kind of drags, and the "all my friends" lines are rather reminiscent of "Escape." I guess it's good that it's here, though, for the sake of completeness.

This Ape's for You - This wraps the whole Apes concept up with a short bit of absurdity, and ends with what kind of sounds like the opening chords of "Dig My Grave."

Long Tall Weekend was released in 1999, and was one of the first albums to only be available online. Some CD's were pressed, and bethje has one, having attended the promotional concert. I'm somewhat jealous of her for that. {g} Anyway, while the Johns tend to ignore LTW, and re-released several of its songs on the rarities collection They Got Lost, it's actually a very good record. A lot of the songs are from the FS era, some of them being outtakes that really deserved to be on a more prominent album.

Drinking - A pretty cool little instrumental that provides a nice start to the proceedings.

She Thinks She's Edith Head - A pretty straight-ahead rock song about a girl Flans used to know, who apparently actually thought she was Napoleon, but it was changed for the song to a somewhat more obscure figure. I'm not sure why this one was re-recorded for Mink Car, but it's decent when taken on its own.

Maybe I Know - Originally a hit for Leslie Gore, with the gender-specific pronouns changed for the Johns' version. They used to perform this live way back in their early days, so it's cool that it finally got a release.

Rat Patrol - The title comes from an old TV show, but I have no idea whether the song actually has anything to do with that show. It's a cool little song that lets Linnell sing in an exaggerated accent.

Token Back to Brooklyn - The lyrics to this song accurately reflect the feeling of a weird nightmare. I think I prefer the arrangement of the Dial-A-Song version, which also claims that the fare collector said he KILLED their parents. When asked about the change, the Johns basically just laughed it off. I originally wasn't sure why they bothered including this, since it was already on FS as a hidden track. Since I can't rip the hidden track to my computer, though, I'm now glad it was released elsewhere.

Older - You know, I loved this song when I first heard it, but now I think it's pretty annoying. I get the feeling that a lot of fans feel the same way. Still, since it was (and still is) a staple of live shows, it's good that they released it somewhere. I'm just not sure why they also needed to put it on Mink Car, and neither version is the superior one that they recorded for FS.

Operators Are Standing By - Like some of the Johns' earlier songs, this one seems to have been constructed from a common phrase. It's short, but quite bouncy and fun.

Dark and Metric - I believe the Johns have referred to this as a grown-up version of a Sesame Street song, a description that I think also might fit "Extra Savoir-Faire." I really like the song, especially the line, "Just because you're floating doesn't mean you haven't drowned."

Reprehensible - Okay, seriously, WHY was this song axed from FS? It's one of my absolute favorite TMBG songs. I mean, the clever Linnellian lyrics, the loungey Flansburghian vocal performance, the old-timey sound, the clarinet solo...this song has everything.

Certain People I Could Name - Another awesome song that I think was cut from FS, because either the Johns or Elektra isn't all that bright. I mean, someone actually thought "XTC vs. Adam Ant" was more worthy of inclusion than this or "Reprehensible"? I guess I can't complain too much, since it WAS eventually released. I especially like the lyrics and the keyboard part.

Counterfeit Faker - An amusing country number with Linnell playing banjo and fiddle, and not really that well, but that kind of helps with the overall sound.

They Got Lost - This is the original slow version of the song, which I don't like as much as the one on the live album. Oh, well.

Lullaby to Nightmares - Lyrically, this is basically "Lullaby to Birdland," rewritten by Joshua Fried for his Headfone Follies show. Flans wrote new music for these lyrics, and Joshua sang a slow, creepy version for Hello the Band. This horn-heavy version doesn't exactly capture the same mood, but I still enjoy it.

On Earth My Nina - Continuing with the Johns' fascination with playing things backwards, this song came into to being when Linnell played "Thunderbird" backwards, and then sang what he thought the reversed lyrics sounded like. It actually worked out surprisingly well.

The Edison Museum - Great vocal performance by DJ Nick Hill on this song about the museum from the title. They liked this song so much, it ended up on two albums.

Next week, watch me get hit by a Mink Car!
Tags: albums, tmbg

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