Nathan (vovat) wrote,

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I don't want to be first in line to see the missing head

Today, I'll be reviewing the non-album tracks on the Why Does the Sun Shine?, Back to Skull, S-E-X-X-Y, and Working Undercover for the Man EPs, all by They Might Be Giants.

Why Does the Sun Shine? - As I probably mentioned before, this is a cover of a song from a children's science record. This, the earliest released TMBG recording of the song, sticks fairly closely to the original, although the additions of the accordion and glockenspiel make for a nice sound. Pretty much everybody likes the fast rock version better, though.

Jessica - Another cover, this one is an instrumental originally performed by the Allman Brothers. TMBG's take on it cuts a bit from the Allmans' version, but I still think it's pretty fun.

Whirlpool - This song was originally done by the Meat Puppets. I don't know much about that band, but I have heard their version of this song, and TMBG's take on it is a LOT different. It's a pretty forgettable song overall, but not bad.

Spy - Yeah, the same song that was on John Henry, and I didn't like it that much there either. This is a different recording, but it isn't really THAT different, aside from the fact that the yelling of "Spy!" before the improv bit is in stereo. I wonder why they didn't keep that effect for the album version, as I have to say I prefer it.

Ondine - A cool song that really should have made it to an album, but I guess John Henry DID have twenty tracks already, so something had to be cut. I believe John Flansburgh has said that he went to school with a girl named Ondine and just liked the sound of the name, but I've seen some interpretations that link her with the water nymph of the same name, who cursed her unfaithful husband to stop breathing when he fell asleep. And the Ondine of the song calls the guy she killed (i.e., the narrator) a "swinger." Coincidence? Maybe, but fascinating nonetheless. Isn't it amazing how much symbolism the Johns can put into a song without even realizing it?

She Was a Hotel Detective - A sequel of sorts to the "Hotel Detective" from the first album, and a much better song, at least as far as I'm concerned. The high vocal parts are John Linnell with his voice sped up, but Flans would sing it in falsetto when performing the song live, which I've unfortunately only heard on a low-quality MP3. As legend has it, though, this was the inspiration for the song "How Can I Sing Like a Girl?".

Mrs. Train - Like its namesake (well, the second word of it, anyway), the song speeds up as it goes on. Not exactly an original idea, but utilized quite well here. As it picks up speed, the lyrics also become more nonsensical (which is saying something, as even the first verse is awfully weird).

Snail Dust - The Dust Brothers seem to remix pretty much everything, so it's no surprise that they'd get to TMBG at some point. This is a mix of "Snail Shell" with a neat organ part supporting it.

S-E-X-X-Y (Radio Mix) - Largely the same as the Factory Showroom version, but I think it's a little faster, and the string part at the end is cut. I like that part, but I guess it would make sense to remove it for the radio, since the DJ would just talk over it anyway. Has anyone actually HEARD this song on the radio, though? (I think I remember a few people mentioning that they had back around when I first became a fan of the band, but I know I'VE never heard it on the radio.)

SenSurround - A driving little rock song about someone who was affected by a movie sound system while still in the womb.

Unforgotten - Not a bad song overall, but I think the lyrics are a bit cheesy. "I know your new boyfriend, and you belong with him"? Come on, Flans, you can do better than that!

We've Got a World That Swings - A really fun cover song that kind of reminds me of "New York City" in its theme of everything being all right because you're in love, but I like it more (maybe partially because they don't overplay it live; I'm actually not sure they've EVER done it live). This was sung by Jerry Lewis at one point, but I don't think I've ever heard that version.

S-E-X-X-Y (Warren Rigg Microwave Mix) - An extended dance remix of the song, and, well, I'm not so keen on extended dance remixes. It's not terrible, but it's a little too long and repetitive for my taste. This wasn't the only remix of this song; I remember liking the Tee's Freeze Mix better, but I only have that on cassette. And I quite like the Total Remix, which includes a sample of Andy Partridge among many others, but I believe copyright issues made it impossible for them to release it to CD.

Rest Awhile - Another excellent song that didn't make it to an album for whatever reason. I like both the music and the lyrics, especially the seemingly random reference to sixteenth century Spanish bishop and chess player Ruy Lopez. I've sometimes seen the title listed as "Rest A While," which I believe is more grammatically correct, but looks rather awkward, so I'll stick to spelling it as two words.

I Am a Human Head - Eh, I'm not really so fond of this one. The subject is quite TMBG-ish, but the music isn't particularly good, and the lyrics are very repetitive.

Empty Bottle Collector - A not-particularly-memorable jazz instrumental that I've also seen called "Empty Bottle Blues." I like the "Collector" title better, though, as it's more ambiguous. "Empty Bottle Blues" just sounds like it's about alcoholism, but "Empty Bottle Collector" could refer to that OR to someone who collects bottles as a hobby. And speaking of titles for this song, it had a totally different one when used in the Malcolm in the Middle soundtrack, but I can't remember what it was. Something like "Playground Pokémon," maybe?

On the Drag - This is an awesome song, but I kind of like the unreleased version from the Factory Showroom sessions better. This one seems a little more subdued, and reverses the two verses for some reason. I usually think of this song whenever I see or hear about St. Mark's Place (which isn't all that often, but bethje and I were once walking right behind Robin Goldwassser and her parents on that street).

Radio They Might Be Giants - Actually three different theme songs for the now-defunct Radio TMBG application on WiredPlanet. The first one is pretty generic, and I remember there being a slightly longer version of the first one that they played at concerts around the time. The second is my favorite of the three, and the third kind of slow and weird.

Robot Parade (Adult Version) - Probably due mostly to difficulty finding a label for No!, this ended up being released BEFORE the kids' version, which might have resulted in some people missing the joke. (Personally, I first heard both versions back to back on Dial-A-Song.) It's pretty amusing, especially with the creepily shouted "Hello, children!" at the beginning. I'm disappointed that they left out the second verse, though. Fortunately, I have a live recording of the adult version that DOES include the other verse.

And here are some reviews that I'd already posted, of more recent EPs and such.

Bed, Bed, Bed
Indestructible Object
The Spine Surfs Alone
Cast Your Pod to the Wind

Really, I guess that's about it for TMBG. I know some of you expressed interest in my re-reviewing the more recent material, and I might do that someday, but I'll hold off on it for now. And there's always that issue of McSweeney's that they did the music for, but how much could I possibly say about "Dollar for Dollar" and "Grassroots Internet Revolution"? Next week, I'll start on examining the Johns' side projects, and then it'll probably be on to a different band.
Tags: music, tmbg

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