No! – They Might Be Giants


They Might Be Giants


Idlewood / Rounder


They Might Be Giants have always been somehow relevant to children.  “Particle Man” and “Istanbul” were featured on Tiny Toons,   Cartoon Network let them write songs for shows, and many songs are written about often silly topics (I’ll give you one guess to figure out what “Whistling in the Dark” is about).  So, in 2002 when they released No!, their first album “for the entire family”, it was an inherently logical step.

I recently saw them play in support of their new kid’s album Here Comes the Science (which I still haven’t bought.  I know, I’m a horrible fan) in Wayne, NJ.  They played two shows that day: a kids’ show and later, an adults one.  Are They Might Be Giants really a children’s band?  Many songs were repeated between the two sets (“Dr. Worm”, “The Alphabet of Nations”, “Clap Your Hands”).  In fact, “Clap Your Hands” (introduced as the “They Might Be Giants’ Theme Song”) had a better reception during the adult show than the earlier one (It’s always great to see twenty-and-up-year-olds clapping, stomping, and jumping along to song lyrics). 

No! starts off with “Fibber Island”, a song based completely off of telling lies and one’s imagination.  It almost starts off sounding like an acoustic-folk song.  That is, until TMBG’s strangeness comes in (a deep voice that I theorize will scare any child who doesn’t hear voices in his or her head).  The false ending of the song is followed by sounds coming back in that are reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

“Four of Two” follows, a rather depressing song about a broken clock and the fact that the narrator’s love interest has abandoned him, although he always foolishly believes that she’ll meet him.  Yet, it has the charm that TMBG always possess in dealing with these topics.

“Robot Parade” and the later “Wake Up Call” seem only to be included on the album to show off vocal sound effects.  They’re alright songs to listen to (probably will enthrall younger listeners with the effects), but they don’t ever hint at being more than just that.

The title track takes up the fourth track.  The composition follows a start-stop arrangement, that, despite being slightly over a minute long, makes the song seem like it has more content than it actually does.  Yet, no matter how you look at the song, it’s solely about the word “no.”  This can be seen as either a taunt at children or siding with them, who really knows?

“Where do they make balloons?”, sung by bassist Danny Weinkauf, is a thoroughly charming song about balloons.  Weinkauf has a kind of innocent voice, making lines like “New York has tall buildings, New Jersey has its malls” and “Spaghetti is from China but Italians make it best” sound cleverly earnest and sincere.  One of the best songs on the album, by far.

This is followed by the token educational song on the album “In the Middle, In the Middle, In the Middle” which is sung by Robin Goldwasser.  Not much to say about the song.  It’s about not crossing the street in the middle (in the middle, in the middle) of the road.

“Violin” and “I Am Not Your Broom” are two childish, and very interesting songs.  The former features excessively random lyrics such as: “One quarter of George Washington’s head”, “Speck of dust, speck of dust” , and (the best) “mmmop.  mop mop mop mopmopmop”.  Meanwhile, “I Am Not Your Broom” (which was hysterical live, as they brought out a broom with a face taped on to it for a cameo) is about a cognizant broom that is leaving its owner.

“I Am Not Your Broom” also has a sibling song in “I Am A Grocery Bag”.  An unrhyming list of foodstuffs, the song is hilarious in its brevity.

The two best songs, “John Lee Supertaster” and “The House at the Top of the Tree” fill up tracks eight and ten respectively.  “John Lee” is a straightforward rock song, with funny harmonies “it’s like a million pears” and an awesome guitar solo.  The lyrics are witty, and all along shows that TMBG have not lost their edge at all.  The latter song could be the catchiest on the album with its repetitive lyrics and minimalist structure.

The liner notes claim that the last three songs are scientifically proven to put children to sleep, even warning the listener not to operate heavy machinery.  While this is false, “Lazyhead and Sleepybones” and “Sleepwalkers” are the slowest tracks on the album.  However, “Bed Bed Bed” is a standout track.  A catchy blues-rock song, it again features random sounds thrown in that bring to mind another Beatles’ song (this time, “Good Morning Good Morning”). 

No! is a definite solid album by TMBG, while it doesn’t come close to the greatness of previous albums (mainly Flood), it is very enjoyable.  It has many great songs, but lacks the darker subjects prevalent in their earlier works.  However, No! may appear to be a children’s album, but it still maintains a more mature edge to it.  Why did Linnell and Flansburgh make this album?  It could be that it was the next logical step for them.  Or it could be that with their early 90’s fans entering an age of parenthood, they wanted to put their own eclectic stamp on the genre.  Whatever reason they have, this album still is just as enjoyable for adults as for children. Page

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4 Responses to “No! – They Might Be Giants”

  1. Robot Parade is my favorite song on this album! Nice review! Keep up the good work.

  2. albumdujour Says:

    Have you heard the “metal” version of “Robot Parade”? It’s pretty interesting, and I’m almost certain I saw them play it live when they came through Texas so many years ago. Unfortunately, TMBG hardly ever come down here anymore, maybe twice in the past few years.

    I’ve quite enjoyed TMBG’s “kid” albums, “Here Comes Science” is a particularly good one that I’ll be writing about in the future (where Science comes from), but nothing will take the place of their incrementally-better “adult” albums.

    Cool review!

  3. No, I haven’t heard the metal version yet, but I have heard of it. I totally have to go out and get “Here Comes the Science”, from when I heard them play some songs live recently, they sounded really cool.

    Thanks, both of you!

  4. […] albums about the alphabet and science.  This is a band that dares to ask the question “Where do they make balloons?”  And yet, this band has also contributed the theme song to Malcolm in the Middle, sings about […]

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