Article first published as Music Review: They Might Be Giants - Join Us (Four Advance Tracks) on Blogcritics.
Giants? They may be, but if the four advance tracks from their new album, Join Us currently available from iTunes are any indication—giants? They sure as hell are. While the complete album is scheduled for release later this summer, this first taste is well calculated to whet the appetite of all those fans of the band who have been waiting patiently for a return to the quirky joy of the "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and "Particle Man" era after the Giants' recent forays into children's music and family programming (not that there's anything wrong with that, in the words of some other pop heroes). Here are four songs that capture the free spirited absurdist world critique that colored the band's journey from cult status to tops on the alternative charts.
You've got the clever esoteric lyrics which cry out for explication. Where else are you going to get a refrain that uses a kind of enamel work as a simile, Quonset hutting used as a gerund? You've got the infectious syncopating rhythms. You've got their characteristic harmonies and instrumental gamesmanship. You've got the joyful echoes of musical styles long gone. This is deceptively simple music that can bite. Everything that makes They Might Be Giants unique is on display.
"Can't Keep Johnny Down" is as catchy a melodic pop romp as you're likely to hear this summer. In an interview with Spinner, John Flansburgh says it’s a song about defiance, "a very nice bittersweet concoction of a very bitchy lyric with an incredibly sunny arrangement." Cloissone" is a Salvatore Dali painting in music with the kind of lyrics that play with your head. "Never Knew Love" is a sweet ballad with a driving beat, although the title suggests at least some ambiguity. Flansburgh says the full title should be "Never Knew Love Like This Before," which would certainly get rid of the ambiguity. "Old Pine Box," a song with something of a folk quality, he says is a song about burnout. The whole interview which includes Flansburgh's explanation for why the band decided to produce an adult album at this time, is available at the Spinner website.