Join Us is They Might be Giant’s 17th album, and their first album not aimed at kids since 2007’s The Else. They have spent the bulk of the last ten years producing child friendly fair, with Here Comes Science from 2009 being the best of the bunch (I advise anyone with toddler age children to pick up the CD/DVD of this, it is inspired). I’ve been a big fan of the duo since I first heard ‘Don’t Let’s Start’ in 1987 (2nd album Lincoln made our Top 100 chart) so I was excited to see that they were back with a “proper” album.
Opening track ‘Can’t Keep Johnny Down’ is They Might Be Giant by numbers, but in a good way. It is all accordion, catchy melody, clever puns and the sound of one John’s drawling vocals whilst the other John belts out fuzzy power chords. To a new listener it may not have a huge impact, but to an old fan it is very refreshing to have the band back on the stereo again.
The album is played with a full band, a concept that still seems novel to me despite being something that has been the norm since John Henry was released back in 1994. In all other respects the band hasn’t moved along a lot since the mid-1990s, and that is something to be thankful for. This is a resolutely They Might Be Giants album, more mature maybe than their first few releases, but not so much as to lose what it is that makes the band so much fun.
The usual typical mixture of styles is here, quirky pop, folky acoustic numbers, electronic ditties, songs that defy classification and the nerdy disco funk of ‘Celebration’ (possibly my favourite song on the album – and no doubt one that many listeners will want to skip).
They Might be Giants aren’t just masters of catchy melody, they know how to write interesting, witty and irreverent lyrics. ‘When You Die’ is all high tempo bouncy beats, chirpy horn sounds and some of the most ill-willed songs on the album. It also sounds like a song that could have appeared on any one of their late 1980s albums. Something about returning to producing a “proper” album seems to have made the two Johns want to celebrate what it is to be They Might Be Giants and embrace the sounds from throughout their career.
The fascinating thing in listening to an album like this is marvelling at how much musical ground it covers without ever stopping sounding just like They Might Be Giants. There are few bands that have a sound as identifiable, as uniquely singular and yet so erratic and all over the musical map.
There are going to be a lot of people who will be put off by just that, they’ll see the band as being too quirky, too much of a novelty. Humour and clever touches are often seen as weaknesses in music when pseudo-intellectual lyrics and faux-emotions are lapped up by people swaying their arms in fields. To me it is refreshing to hear a band, however many years they’ve been together, producing genuinely intelligent good humoured inventive pop music.
There isn’t a huge single like ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ (which is, after all, one of the best singles of all time) and the album isn’t quite up there with Lincoln and Flood, but it is one of the best pop albums I’ve listened to this year. It is time to welcome back They Might Be Giants, a band that aren’t just there for the kids.
By Dorian Rogers