Nathan (vovat) wrote,

The Science of Giants

The latest They Might Be Giants album has been out for a while now, but bethje and I just bought our copy recently. Honestly, I have to say I'm a little disappointed that they brought out another children's record so soon after the last one. I mean, it's better than nothing, but the first two albums they did for Disney had The Else released in between them. That said, however, I get the impression that the subject matter of this new one was more fun for the band to work with than the alphabet or numbers. As with the other two "Here Comes" albums, there's a DVD to accompany the CD. Instead of the puppet Johns who appeared on the last two, this is hosted by crudely drawn cartoon professor Johns in lab coats.

Science Is Real - Nice and melodic introductory song, and I have to commend TMBG for coming up with a children's song that seems intentionally designed to annoy fundamentalists. In the first few lines, it identifies the Big Bang and evolution as real, and then goes on to group angels with unicorns and elves. (I guess elves can be considered to have some religious significance, since it's commonly thought that they were originally minor German and Scandinavian nature deities, but angels are part of a religion that's still mainstream today.) Not that the song is anti-religious or anything, but I get the impression that it was specifically designed to act as a counterargument to people who insist that a theory is just a guess. I suppose that could potentially lower sales among the Religious Right homeschooling crowd, but would any of them have been likely to pick up this record anyway? They're probably still boycotting Disney over the gay thing.

Meet the Elements - A pretty straightforward song about...well, just what it sounds like in the title. Some of the lyrics do sound a bit awkwardly squeezed in, though, especially during the "every living thing is mostly made of four elements" part.

I Am a Paleontologist - A fun, fast-paced light rock song with the lead vocal by bass player Danny Weinkauf. I don't think his voice sounds as good here as it did on "Where Do They Make Balloons?", but he still shows a bit of the faux British accent he used on that one.

The Bloodmobile - This song was recorded several years ago for use at the giant walk-through heart at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. I've been there many times, and I've heard rumors that kids sometimes pee in there (and no, I never did that), but I haven't seen it since they put in this song. Anyway, I appreciate the different musical and vocal styles used for describing different functions of the circulatory system, with both Johns and Robin Goldwasser singing lead at different times.

Electric Car - A fun, jazzy song with a lead vocal by Robin. Honestly, I don't think there's any real educational content to this one, as it doesn't say anything about how an electric car works, or how it differs from a gasoline-powered vehicle. But hey, not every song has to be edutainment, does it?

My Brother the Ape - Another one where the educational value is rather minimal. It's ostensibly about how all living things are related due to the evolution, but it's mostly just a silly Linnell story about a family reunion attended by different sorts of organisms. Nothing wrong with that, though.

What Is a Shooting Star? - A cover of a song from a science record from the fifties called simply Space Songs, written by the same guys who created "Unchained Melody." TMBG first released their version about eight years ago, but this is its first appearance on an album.

How Many Planets? - One of many list songs to appear on the band's children's albums, it basically just relays the names of the planets in order, but I like the different voices they use for each one. The song reflects the decision to no longer consider Pluto a planet, but it and several other dwarf planets are named.

Why Does the Sun Shine? - This song, another cover of a Space Songs number, has been in TMBG's repertoire for a LONG time. A demo was released on Dial-A-Song along with "Where Your Eyes Don't Go," and the band released the song as a single in 1993. Unlike those recordings, this one is the fast rock version that they usually do in concert. This arrangement already appeared on Severe Tire Damage, but I believe this is the first studio recording of the fast version to receive a proper album release. I'm not sure what I think of the decision to sing the parts that were originally spoken, though.

Why Does the Sun Really Shine? - Since the fifties, when that last song was written, it's been determined that stars are technically not made of gas. Instead, they're actually plasma, the fourth state of matter (not to be confused with blood plasma, which is a liquid), and the Johns came up with a new song to reflect this. While not all that great in and of itself, it definitely works as a follow-up and update to the last song, with a good bit of humor coming from the lines about forgetting what that one said. I think it's also an effective way of demonstrating the ever-changing nature of scientific theories.

Roy G. Biv - The Johns present the well-known mnemonic for the colors of the rainbow as the name of an elf. It also mentions unicorns, so perhaps it's intended as a callback to "Science Is Real" (or "Science Is Real" contains a reference to this, depending on which one came first). I'd say this is one of the weaker songs on this album, as its tune and arrangement are pretty generic. Also, isn't indigo a shade of blue? The video shows it as a pinkish-purple instead, which is pretty bizarre for an educational product.

Put It to the Test - The song itself doesn't really grab me, but the video is pretty cool, presenting the Johns performing experiments in the style of an old video game. I also have to give a thumbs-up to the band for including something about the scientific method, which apparently even a lot of adults don't quite understand.

Photosynthesis - If the point of this record is to both entertain and educate (and I assume it is), this is one that I think succeeds on both fronts. Unlike some of the weaker numbers, this one has an interesting arrangement, and it explains what photosynthesis actually is while still managing to get in some amusing lines.

Cells - Another pretty good one, but while I like both the music and lyrics, they sometimes don't seem to fit together as well as they could have. The best line is the one including Eisenhower among the living things made up of cells.

Speed and Velocity - Drummer Marty Beller provides the lead vocal on this one, which explains the difference between speed and velocity, and has a pretty cool backing synthesizer part.

Computer Assisted Design - There really isn't much to this song, which clocks in at under a minute, and says very little. It kind of sounds more like an advertising jingle than a full-fledged album track, even for a children's record, but it doesn't mention any brand names or anything.

Solid Liquid Gas - The idea of changing the background music to reflect the different states of matter might be an obvious one, but it's still effective. Not a very long song, but I think it says what it needs to.

Here Comes Science - All three of the "Here Come" records have a jingle to identify the band and the album, but for some reason they decided to stick it towards the end on this one. Why? I really couldn't say.

The Ballad of Davy Crockett (in Outer Space) - A good-natured parody/modernization of Disney's Davy Crockett song, in which the pioneer is reborn as an astronaut. While presumably intended more for humor than for education, it does bring up some scientific speculation in the verse about travel at the speed of light "messing around with the fabric of time." I wonder if the dog-robot being named Copernicus is a reference to Back to the Future.

So, this was enjoyable, but let's hope TMBG can put out a regular, non-educational album next, as I think they work better when they're not limited by subject matter or intended audience. Still, there are many other directions they could take with these children's records. Look forward to Here Comes Art History, Here Comes Political Science, Here Comes Abnormal Psychology, Here Comes Comparative Religion, Here Comes Sex Ed, and There Goes Economics!
Tags: albums, tmbg, videos

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