Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30: They Might Be Giants, "Lincoln"

Artist: They Might Be Giants
Album: Lincoln
Year: 1988
Label: Bar-None


Often times, the most ingenious and original music is completely misunderstood, and more times then one might think, the music is given a "death sentence" by being classified as "novelty" music. This is usually done because the music in question is quirky, upbeat, and conforms to none of the usual rules of musical performance. While some of this music is in fact a "flash in the pan" sound, there are a handful of brilliant artists who have emerged and persevered through this unjust classification. By simply saying the words "quirky" and "artsy" in the same sentence, there is one band that comes almost instantly to mind, as they are the very definition of the terms when shared, They Might Be Giants. One of the most unique bands to ever record, the music of They Might Be Giants is unexpectedly catchy and never fails to be some of the most original and unique music one will find anywhere on the planet. The way in which the two band members mix the "smart" of art-rock with wonderfully catchy hooks and clever lyrics remains truly unparalleled, and the band remains in a category all their own more than twenty years after first appearing on the music scene. While their debut record is one of the most brilliantly artistic records ever and their third album is a fantastic pop party, it is their second album, 1988's Lincoln, that contains the best of both of the bands' abilities and stands as their finest work to date.

In many ways, They Might Be Giants draw as much influence from bands like DEVO and The B-52's as they do from The Ramones and Frank Zappa. Having such a wide range of influences is the only way that one can comprehend the amazingly eclectic and completely unique blend of sounds that forms the bands' music. Taking the art-rock style, as well as the heavy use of synthesizers and programmed drums from those first bands, as well as the "no rules" and slightly sarcastic feel of the punk movement from the others, there has never been another group to so perfectly meld the these two seemingly distant sounds. Understandably, this makes Lincoln one of the most stunningly diverse albums ever, and every single song on the record is nothing short of perfect. Rattling off eighteen songs in just under forty minutes, Lincoln has one of the highest concentrations of absolutely phenomenal music of any album ever released. From the jazzy-mamba of "The World's Address" to the jerky alternative-rock meets new wave of "Ana Ng," the duo that form They Might Be Giants prove to be a pair of the most talented musicians of their generation. This almost excessive amount of talent that is on display throughout all of Lincoln caught the eye of many larger labels, and it is the brilliance of the album that would lead to the band getting signed, and then releasing their most well known album, 1990's Flood.

Though They Might Be Giants would eventually take on a full time backing band, on their early records, all of the music and vocals is the product of John Linnell and John Flansburgh. With a liberal use of programmed drums as well as some live drumming, the duo created some of the most refreshingly unique, yet easily accessible "art rock" ever. Working in instruments ranging from accordions and tambourines to a variety of percussion and guitars, few groups have so successfully blended so many different sounds. At times, the songs on Lincoln are powerful walls of sound, with extraordinarily complex orchestrations, yet at other points on the record, the music is sparse and open, and it the vocals become more of a focus. From the DEVO-esque "Pencil Rain" to the simple and loose "Piece Of Dirt" to the speedy and strange sounds of "Cowtown," there are so many different styles presented on Lincoln that it is almost hard to comprehend all of this coming from the same musicians. The album also spawned a rather unlikely hit, as "Ana Ng" found its way to number eleven on the "College Radio singles" chart in 1988. The song, which is a strange tale of having a soul-mate on the other side of the planet sounds like nothing else before it, and it is one of the many songs that makes the groups' music so endearing.

While the music throughout Lincoln is absolutely brilliant, it is often the lyrics and singing that makes the songs of They Might Be Giants so memorable. Presenting the ideal balance between singing and speaking, the duo share vocal duties, and both Linnell and Flansburgh possess some of the most instantly recognizable voices in music history. Anyone who is familiar with the later hits of They Might Be Giants is extremely familiar with Linnell's voice, and the almost "geeky" sound is yet another aspect that makes their sounds like no other. Often times, the true genius behind the music of They Might Be Giants is lost in their sometimes silly lyrics. It is this eccentricity that is one of the most delightful aspects of the groups' music and within these lyrics, it becomes quickly clear that the duo have one of the most uncanny knacks for writing hooks that has ever been heard. Even after the first listening, every song sticks in your head, and the rhythms and beats are just as addictive. Though it is one of the more overlooked songs on the record, "The World's Address" perfectly encapsulates everything that makes They Might Be Giants so fantastic. From the piano-based orchestration (that was clearly a massive influence on Barenaked Ladies) to the rhythmic dance party to the absolutely wonderful lyrics, the song is by far one of the greatest ever composed. While one could go on and on about how sensational every song on Lincoln is, one must experience the album firsthand to truly appreciate the musical mastery featured throughout the record.

Bands that are truly talented and unquestionably unique are few and far between, yet their contributions to the world of music are often some of the most important. Paving the way for everyone from The Refreshments to Barenaked Ladies to Crash Test Dummies, it was the genius originality of They Might Be Giants that opened the doors to an entirely new style of music. Combining the "smart" aspect of art-rock with the hidden complexity of the punk ethos along with a style that is completely their own, They Might Be Giants remain an unmatched musical force more than twenty years after their first release. Responsible for some of the most enduring and most memorable songs of the 1990's, the group has earned one of the most devoted and diverse musical followings of any band in history. The brainchild of John Linnell and John Flansburgh, every note on Lincoln is played by one of the two, as they had not yet formed a complete backing band. The fact that such a wide range of sounds and styles were performed by these two serves as a testament to their amazing musical talents, and every song on the album further reinforces just how brilliant and visionary they were this early in their career. Though the make-up of the band shifted a few years later, it has always been anchored by Linnell and Flansburgh, and this has enabled the music of the band to remain consistently brilliant throughout their entire career. Without a bad song anywhere in their history, They Might Be Giants display everything that makes them so wonderfully unique on their landmark 1988 release, the truly unmatched Lincoln.



Standout tracks: "Ana Ng," "The World's Address," and "Santa's Beard."

2 comments:

Nick said...

I would like to go to a 'fantastic pop party!'

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