First thing’s first: read these aloud:
~”Ana Ng and I are getting old
And we still haven’t walked in the glow of each others’ majestic presence
Listen Ana hear my words
They’re the ones you would think I would say if there was a me for you”
~”They don’t need me here, and I know you’re there
Where the world goes by like the humid air
And it sticks like a broken record
Everything sticks like a broken record
Everything sticks until it goes away
And the truth is, we don’t know anything”
~”Don’t call me at work again no the boss still hates me
I’m just tired and I don’t love you anymore
And there’s a restaurant we should check out where
The other nightmare people like to go
I mean nice people, baby wait,
I didn’t mean to say nightmare”
~”Lad’s gal is all he has
Gal’s gladness hangs upon the love of lad
The love of lad
Some things gal says to lad aren’t meant as bad
But cause a little pain
They cause him pain
Lad looks at other gals
Gal thinks Jim Beam is handsomer than lad
He isn’t bad
Call off the wedding band
Nobody wants to hear that one again
Play that again”
Then listen to “Ana Ng” and “They’ll Need a Crane.”
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I can’t finish a single one of this band’s albums in one sitting, even their best one (this one). I was never much of a sweet-tooth; eating too much sugar in one sitting always left me feeling disgusted (exception: if you put rockets in front of me, you’ll watch as I deftly unwrap them, sort them by color and eat them from worst colors (purple, red) to best (orange, yellow) really fast). (More people should hand out chips for Hallowe’en; who’s with me?) They Might Be Giants deals with ultra-fast, ultra-melodic songs that don’t really have all that much substance (the two songs practically quoted in full above being exceptions). So yeah, they’re the aural equivalent of non-rockets candy.
That being said, most of these songs are worth a spin (only “Cage and Aquarium” and Tom Waits-featuring “You’ll Miss Me” outright suck). Check out “Cowtown,” which starts with a goofy hook and march-like singing that sounds like it belongs in a children’s song before the song shifts into completely absurdity of farm animals being sampled (/bullied) into a melody that’s punctuated by a whistle that could very well be those animals screaming as they’re being bludgeoned to death; it’s funny, and then horrifying, and then funny again. Check out “Lie Still, Little Bottle” which adds a bit of variety in the album (shame they put it so early in the tracklist) with its approximation/parody of night-time jazz. Check out “Pencil Rain” for the horn melody in the first half, which rounds out the military feel of the beat and singing, and the gross (good thing) organ sound in the second half (shame the guitar doesn’t do anything special). Check out “Shoehorn With Teeth” for the lyric, “He asks a girl if they can both sit in a chair / But he doesn’t get nervous / She’s not really there,” which is fucking amazing of a lyric. Check out “Stand On Your Own Head” for its “Ana Ng”-like momentum. Check out “Snowball in Hell” because the band take a lot of care with the instrumentation: a high-pitched interval punctuating the accordion (shame the bridge is obligatory at best). Check out “Kiss Me, Son of God” where harmonies strengthen the already likeable vocal melody.
But honestly, even if none of those songs had those tiny details to keep them around, I’d still have awarded this album a B+ because of the presence of two perfect songs. “They’ll Need a Crane” has the catchiest hook on the album, and you might think that’s all there is to it, but check out the drumming during the choruses: first tapping out a tiny figure after each line, before a slight syncopation during the more complex melody (“To take the house he built for her apart…”; “A metal ball hung from a chain…”; “To pick the broken ruins up again…”; “To see a world apart from pain…”). And yes, the lyrics kick ass, playing on the smacking syllables of “Lad” and “Gal” as the unnamed couple: “Gal’s gladness”; “The love of lad”; “Some things gal says to lad / Aren’t meant as bad”; “Gal thinks Jim Bean is handsomer than lad / He isn’t bad” (and notice how the only person in the song to be named is the scoundrel). Love the absurdity (there’s that word again) of the bridge’s lyrics, “I’m just tired and I don’t love you anymore / And there’s a restaurant we should check out / Where the other nightmare people like to go / I mean nice people—baby wait, I didn’t mean to say nightmare,” and I love how they incorporate the acoustic guitar of the bridge with the rest of the song.
And “Ana Ng” is a totally different beast, kicking down the doors of the album with its heaviest riff. During the verses, it seems John Linnell is trying to climb his voice higher but can’t pull it off (“in a foreign nation”) so he has drums accenting the syllables in all the right places instead. And the choruses are just a delight, with the words bouncing towards you like they’re attached to exercise balls while a Calvin equipped with his propeller hat finally manages to take off in the background, singing as he goes. And the best part is, they save their ace in the hole when you think the song’s already good enough: make sure you look for the backing vocals during the final verse, doing their own pockets of melody throughout. And if you weren’t paying attention, the lyrics start sad (in case you’re wondering what the hell the song’s about, here’s Linnell: “[“Ana Ng”] generated out of this simple idea of imagining someone on the exact opposite side of the globe. There’s only one person for you and they’re located at some point at random on the globe”) and get sadder – but it’s hard to notice when so much is happening. “Teen Age Riot” aside, probably the best song of 1988.
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People who think the different colored rockets all taste the same are the worst.