They are back!!! After the wonderful 'Nanobots' (cleverly linked here) (back in the period when my reviews were short and still full of spelling errors) the wonderful They Might Be Giants have returned with 'Glean', which is the seventeenth album in total. When I told Jerm on here I was starting to review this album, his reaction was similar to mine on the last album - I did not know those guys were still going. I find that to be a shame (and something I am equally guilt of as well), as they are a strange and wonderful band that have more to give the world than "Birdhouse In Your Soul" and the theme from Malcolm In The Middle; granted both of those songs are brilliant, but that is beside the point - there is more to this band then people know. Anyway, the background to this review - back in the 1980's They Might Be Giants would record a song onto an answering machine, then they would advertise the number and fans would call up to hear the song; this might be difficult for people who has not lived in a world without the internet, but this sort of thing is seriously cool and a unique way of getting your music out there. They discontinued doing this in 2006, but restarted it again in 2014 (sort of in the same way that Ginger Wildheart has tried something new (but much like the singles club idea he had years ago) with the G.A.S.S. project). This album is part of that project, so let us see how it has turned out....
Starting off the album is the lead single "Erase", much like the majority of They Might Be Giants songs it works as a tune to turn your mind off to and dance about; but in the same time, there is always a story as well - in this case there is a love story in the background and if we are honest, a little bit of murder too (either by drowning or strangulation - you can never really tell with these cats). Either way, this song is a bouncing number that keeps getting better with repeated listening. Following on is the much more restrained and lounge-esque "Good To Be Alive", this is a more relaxing number and it still holds the charm and crazy nature of the band; but it also seems to be a more reflective song, all about the joy of waking up in the morning and the inward works of the human body. It is good to see that they still go for the strange and wonderful, then this song will tick all those buttons. "Underwater Woman" is a rock number about a woman who lives underwater and can survive on her own; it is the second song on this album that has a mention of an underwater woman ("Erase" mentioned mermaids), alas it is not the strongest song I have heard from the band. It is interesting enough, but once it is over I must admit I was not wishing to repeat the song. Fourth track "Musical Jail Part 1 & 2" however is much better, it starts off with an over the top dramatic opening; it could seriously be the beginning of a play. The song itself is an off-beat varied number that totally changes style and direction half way through. I love the variation in one song and it is held together extremely well. Following on is the longest track of the album (do not worry short attention-span kids, it is only three minutes, twenty six seconds) in the form of "Answer" which is a love song, how love can be found in the most unexpected places and people; it is another strange piece from the band and it makes the world happier for its existence.
Afterwards we are introduced to the short and sweet "I Can Help The Next In Line", it is a song about being able to help the next in line and not the person; it sort of feels like being stuck on a phone line with someone who is being awkward for no reason what so ever. It describes various situation where there are problems which are easily sortable, it is not until the strings join the song that it becomes interest and once they stop it goes back to a slightly dull, repressive place- not one for me. "Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel" is much better, this is a funny tale about someone besmirching their honour and it is time to settle it the old fashion way. It is a so charming and slightly mournful that it makes up for "I Can Help the Next in Line", it is everything that I like about this band; out of the normal, musically interesting and without peer - another gem in this odyssey of the strange. Following on is the rock track of self-loathing called "End of the Rope", the sense of the dramatic from "Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel" is in place with the song of the descent into hell upon the ending of a relationship. It is another good number that tickles the senses, but it is not making them laugh out loud. We are then introduced to the wonderfully titled "All the Lazy Boyfriends", which starts with an interesting landscape and really lays into the lazy boyfriends around the world. It is another track which still manages to make the listener interesting, but does not reach the fun of "Erase"; so close but so far. Then we have the song "Unpronounceable", which should have is another almost got there song for me; the basic premise of the song is really good, but it does not develop for me beyond an interesting idea to a full blown song - almost there, almost.
The sense of the dramatic is back with "Hate the Villanelle", saying you should hate the villanelle instead of the villain (they say behind every great man is a great woman, it must be the same for the bad guys as well surely). It sounds like it could be used in a film noir scene, the opening to a drama with a femme fatale of gigantic proportions. The song is similar to "Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel" and tickles the senses just right. Following on is the strange "I'm A Coward", I am not going to lie - this is what I have been wanting from this album; it is a strange little number that goes off with the minimal fuss and feels like it could have been done for a 60's/70's sci-fi show. The tale of cowardliness is brilliant and ticks all the right points, one of the true highlights of this album. "Aaa" is another rock number where the chorus is Aaa.....Aaaa; it actually once again hits all the buttons that TMBG can do when they just let loose, it is short and to the point and I really like the horror theme to the whole song, basically about various things that can make people scream. The penultimate song is a jazz hands song which is all called "Let Me Tell You about My Operation", it is another fun filled number that would have been used by the TV show Scrubs if it was still going. It seems that the band have hit a groove at this section of the album, it feels as if the fun is returning and it sets up the album for the ending track which is called "Glean". This song sounds as if it was recorded via the telephone or in the 1940's in places. With a strange mixture of reggae keys, violin and off beat drumming, the album is brought to an end on a strange little instrumental that only TMBG could get away with and it seems to be a fitting ending.
I will be honest and say that this album does not live up to my hopes after 'Nanobots'; it sags a little too much in the middle for me, there is a little bit too much safety to the record and sometimes even the strange feels normal; that is not something I would usually expect from They Might Be Giants. However, a safe They Might Be Giants record is akin to most people's most out-there experience; it is all relative to their other works. I am still glad they are still here and there is rumour of a sister album to go with this record, which I will still want to hear. So whilst this is not an album I might return to that often, it was still a strong album; just not for me. With that being said, I have not stopped listening to “Erase” over the last few days - that is one catchy song. File under for fan boys and girls only.
6.5 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there
Top track - Erase
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