Anyway, They Might Be Giants' first children's album came out less than a year after Mink Car, but it was actually a project they'd been working on for some time before that. I think they had trouble finding a record label willing to release it. I think they ended up with a quality product, though. It's short, but in terms of song quality, it's easily on par with the "adult" albums they were releasing around the same time.
Fibber Island - Although I have to wonder about the title (why associate fibbing, which is generally considered a Bad Thing, with simple use of the imagination?), I like the song. It has an interesting arrangement, and I like the psychedelic fade-out at the end. This ending part was actually longer on the demo, and I'm disappointed that they cut part of it out, but maybe they figured kids wouldn't like for it to go on too long.
Four of Two - This song has kind of a weird history. It was inspired by a stopped clock on a Restoration Hardware building in Manhattan, which is why I now think of this song every time I see a Restoration Hardware store. It was originally conceived as a horror song, but it eventually grew into a cartoonish number about a guy so dumb that he doesn't realize the clock has stopped, and ends up in a bizarre future without knowing any time has passed. It's a fun song, but I can't help feeling a little sorry for the narrator.
Robot Parade - Another good one, with a catchy little keyboard part. There's actually a more adult version of this song as well, but I get the impression that it was done as a parody of the child-friendly one, especially since it starts out with a screamed "Hello, children!"
No! - The title track of the album, but not one of the best songs on it. It's not bad, though. This song also has the dubious honor of having been played on American Idol.
Where Do They Make Balloons? - I really like this one. Bass player Danny Weinkauf wrote it and sings on it, which I have to wish he'd do more often. He has a pleasant voice with somewhat of a faux-British tone to it. The lyrics are clever as well, although I remember someone pointing out that it was a bit redundant for him to mention towers as landmarks in both London and Pisa. The song never actually answers the question, by the way.
In the Middle, in the Middle, in the Middle - Another singer I wouldn't mind hearing more often is John Flansburgh's wife, Robin Goldwasser. It's a bit disappointing that her talents are often wasted on not-very-good songs, like Mono Puff's "Pretty Fly." As cheesy as this song is, though (it's actually a cover of an old public service announcement), Robin's vocals and the instrumental arrangement make it a worthwhile addition to the record.
Violin - I think the Johns have the impression that kids enjoy songs with lyrics that are basically just lists of things, and they might not be wrong in that. In this one, though, the listed items have very little to do with each other, and seem to be there more for their sound than their sense. I also have to say that this is a difficult song to sing along with, because it's hard to get the "mop" part quite right.
John Lee Supertaster - The subject of this song is apparently John Lee of the sadly defunct band Muckafurgason. It has a funk sound to it, and it's enjoyable, but I sometimes think Flans likes it more than it deserves. I know he mentioned it as a favorite of his in an interview.
The Edison Museum - Hey, haven't I reviewed this song before? In point of fact, I did, because I'm pretty sure it's not only the same song but the same recording as the last track on Long Tall Weekend. It still fits here, though.
The House at the Top of the Tree - The beginning kind of reminds me of "The End of the Tour," since it starts right in with Linnell singing the words, "There's a." The build-up to this song is similar to The House That Jack Built, but not as tedious. I guess I also identify with this one to some degree, because I know I've played games that involved doing seemingly pointless things in order to stave off some imaginary threat. In this song, it's throwing potato chips out of a treehouse window in order to satiate a giant mouse that would otherwise eat the house. I like the interactive animated video for this track.
Clap Your Hands - Hey, it's TMBG's national anthem! Well, except I also went to a show where they called "E Eats Everything" their national anthem, so maybe they have two. Anyway, this is a simple little song with lyrics ordering listeners to clap their hands, stomp their feet, and jump in the air. It's decent enough, but I think it's about time for the band to stop playing it live, especially since most of the audience doesn't even follow the instructions.
I Am Not Your Broom - Presumably not originally intended as a kids' song, this was something John Linnell cooked up as a GiantCam video when the only prop he had available was a broom. The tune is very reminiscent of "Oh Susannah," although I get the impression that the similarity was somewhat toned down for the album version. I'm glad the song finally found a home, but its presence does somewhat reinforce the idea that this children's album was partially a place to dump simple songs that were lying around in the vaults.
Wake Up Call - If I remember correctly, the story behind this is that Flans recorded the vocal when he'd just gotten out of bed, and then it was mixed into a song. I really don't think it needed an official release, but hey, kids like pseduo-instrumentals, right?
I Am a Grocery Bag - Another list song, which could possibly be a sequel to "Dead."
Lazyhead and Sleepybones - It's slow and folksy, and took some time to grow on me. I like it now, and think the idea of people being at odds despite actually agreeing is very much in the vein of some earlier TMBG lyrics ("He always wants to start when I want to begin" and "one door shuts, another one closes" come to mind). I do think some of the lyrics could have used a little more work, though. I mean, "it isn't" and "it's not"? Did Lazyhead contribute that line? :P
Bed Bed Bed - One of the better songs in the later part of the album (it's really pretty top-heavy, when I think about it), this is a march song about going to bed. It includes more lists and some goofy sound effects.
Sleepwalkers - Someone on a TMBG forum (maybe the newsgroup) made a mention of an oddity of this song: it sounds like it's going to build up to something, but it never really does, except for a few brief lines. It's a pretty good ending song for the whole thing.
One thing I appreciate with this album is that, while it's geared toward kids, it's still something older TMBG fans can enjoy, which isn't as much the case with their later children's records. I've seen interviews with the Johns where they said No! wasn't as good as the later kids' albums because it wasn't aimed at any specific age group, but one of the things I've always LIKED about TMBG is that their music never seems to be intended for anyone in particular. I get the impression that the Johns' attitude is more, "Here's some music we want to make, and if you like it too, that's awesome!" Granted, writing songs for a specific age group is different than writing them for a particular record executive or subculture, but still. If the later records have sold better, I have to wonder whether that was due to anything the Johns did, or more to the fact that they're Disney products, and hence have the Mouse's mega-marketing machine behind them.
There are still a few TMBG albums left, but they all came out since I got this LJ account, so I've already reviewed them. In case you missed them the first time, here are the relevant posts:
Here Come the ABCs
Here Come the 123s
I'm inclined not to review these again, but I would be interested in knowing what you think, so why not participate in the democratic process?
Would you like to see new reviews of the more recent TMBG albums?
What should I move on to next?
When I'm done with TMBG, what band/artist should I start reviewing?
Which of these do you consider to be official TMBG albums?