Towards the end of this album is a song called “Spoiler Alert”, in which two separate drivers, sung in separate audio channels, sing simultaneously about the events leading up to a collision. Weaving melodic lines like a musical number, one voice sings about his belief that the vehicle can drive itself, while the other voice is distracted with writer’s block just before seeing the oncoming truck.
The song ends with intertwined passages of “I can’t believe I haven’t tried this before/I’m letting go!” and “What the hell/What the hell?” before a flute takes over and plays us out. This right here could be the song of the year. This trademark dark humour over bright and cheerful music isn’t anything new, but the depth of TMBG’s ridiculous imaginations and surreal, lyrical stories hasn’t been this blatantly creative since they were just two guys with a drum machine in the 80’s.
For longtime fans, a barrage of catchy rockers like “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” and “Judy Is Your Viet Nam” has to be exciting since almost all of the last decade has been dedicated to children’s albums and a handful of less-than-inspired LPs. But They Might Be Giants go even further than this by not only re-establishing their nerd rock clout with several two-minutes-or-less rockers, but by also showing us they still have a knack for the nonsensical, the obscure, and the delightfully grim.
Thus, we’re treated to songs like “Three Might Be Duende”, involving one of the most difficult Spanish words to translate that connotate a mythical, artistic creature; a horn-laden, head-bobber looking forward to the date of a horrible person’s death (and the way they’ll celebrate it, including giving the entire band shout-outs) on “When Will You Die”; and an acoustic finger-snapper of a song with spoken stage direction barked out by call-and-response style verses on “Protagonist”. Without a doubt, this is TMBG at their quirkiest, catchiest and most clever.
Which has to be completely reassuring for so many loyal fans waiting for the kind of silly gold that made They Might Be Giants a cult alt-rock favourite for so many years. Without completely ripping off their old material, TMBG has fashioned a throwback album of 18 songs that finish before they get started, leaving the listener both amused at what they’ve just heard and craving more. And where there used to be MTV to showcase videos and dial-a-song to release new demos, there is now podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and hopefully, with an album of such strong material, new fans will take notice and become hooked like so many of us did so many years ago.