13 January 2018

They Might Be Giants - I Like Fun


Rightly or wrongly, They Might Be Giants will always be viewed as a ‘One Hit Wonder’ in the UK, which is a shame.  If you mention their name to people of a certain age, you will get a tuneless rendition of ‘Birdhouse in Your Soul’, if you’re lucky you’ll get a tuneless rendition of ‘Boss of Me’ (the theme song to the TV show Malcolm in the Middle).  The thing that makes this a shame is that They Might Be Giants have released hundreds of songs, via some messed up mediums, they are pioneers of strange and they just seem to be reduced to one or two songs.  The last time I looked at their work was Glean (our review linked here), but I didn’t realise that they released another two albums in 2015 & 2016 – one called Why? and one called Phone Power.  The fact I missed both records being released speaks volumes, it shows that I need to keep a closer eye on them, it’s also a testament to their productivity level, the sheer volume of material that they go through.  I Like Fun will be released on 19th January 2018, it’s their twentieth studio album and when I got offered an advance copy to review, I got a little excited.  Mainly because I knew before I started this that it wouldn’t be what I expected, which is the same for all their records.  I like surprises, so let’s see how much fun I Like Fun contains…...

01 - Let's Get This Over With

In typical TMBG's style, they start this album with a quirky number about the strangeness of life, in this instance, it's all about how life comes to an end one day.  There is a morbid feeling to this song, but with a joyful and jaunty feeling to the music.  That is TMBG in a nutshell, seeing things from a different point of view and making it sound delightful as well.  They're as charming as ever on "Let's Get This Over With", I think the world would end if their opening song for an album was not dripping with irony.

02 - I Left My Body

"I Left My Body" is possibly the heaviest song from TMBG in years, it's a hard-rocking number about astral projection, where the mind is out of the body and is all alone.  After a while, he goes back to his body and has totally forgotten its location.  It gets better with each spin, with its strange story and a heavy chorus that gets stuck in your mind.

03 - All Time What

"All Time What" is a Rock 'n' Roll song given an Alternative dress and sent out into the world, with a saxophone section that gives this song legs that could walk anywhere without breaking a sweat.  It's already making its way up to the higher levels of my favourite TMBG songs, there is that magic factor which makes a lot of their songs so intoxicating.  It's another heavy one by their own standards, but still in keeping with their own style.

04 - By the Time You Get This

"By the Time You Get This" is a strange number, it’s a song about a letter to a future culture which fought a great war, safe in the knowledge that they laid their lives down for.  The letter is noted to be written in the 1930's, so there is an ironic twist as the world is still messed up.  I love that sort of detail, the care for the environment and the knowledge that the past generations might have faced similar anxieties/dreams as we do now.

05 - An Insult to the Fact Checkers

What's going on here!  Another heavy TMBG number!  Not that I'm complaining, it's just a surprise to me today.  The sound of the song is fantastic, the words about getting your facts right are brilliant, I've got a feeling it might be about the man with the tiny hands in the White House, but even if it's not you can't deny how the level of joy that this song delivers.

06 - Mrs Bluebeard

Finally!  One of those strange numbers that I've come to expect from TMBG!  It's a piano-led number, with a weird time signature and beat that makes it sound uncomfortable as the beat sounds as if it's in conflict with the rest of the song.  It's not an easy one to like, but that is also part of the charm as well.  I'm just glad it's on the album, I don't know if I could have coped if there wasn't a strange song on here.

07 - I Like Fun

The title track of the album is another little strange number, this time about a person who must be controlled, as he likes fun too much.  It's a bizarre song, with its horn section, crooning vocals and strange harmonies.  But I love this side of the band, the fact that they're not satisfied and there is still a maverick spirit in their souls.  It mightn't be my favourite on here, but it's still a good number.

08 - Push Back the Hands

"Push Back the Hands" is full of regret, about wanting to change the past and live a totally different life.  To be honest, it's the first song on the album which I don't connect with, which can happen on a fifteen-track album.  Anyway, onto the next song.

09 - This Microphone

"The Microphone" is a song that talks about hiding information, getting rid of bad feelings, and those moments where there is nothing is going right.  It's a slow number, a natural pause in the album, one that has a natural feeling.  I don't dislike this one, but I'm not in a desperate hurry to hear it again.

10 - The Bright Side

"The Bright Side" is a beautiful little number, an Alternative Rock song that makes the sunshine appear in my mind.  But the lyrics are not bathed in sunshine, which is what I've come to expect with TMBG.  There is a depressive feeling to this song, one that gives that bright and beautiful sunny feeling of the chorus a sinister edge.  I think that's why I still get sunshine when I hear it, I like the irony and it works for me, it probably means I need therapy.

11 - When the Light Comes On

"When the Light Comes On" is a strange number, a song about having too much of a good time, but hoping everything is great when the lights come on in the morning.  Musically it's another jolly number, lyrically it's another song with a dark underbelly.  I love this one, it's a warning to people not to get too messed up, or at least that is the message I’m getting from it.

12 - Lake Monsters

“Lake Monsters” is a song about monsters, trying to see their existence and it has a few detours around their strange life.  It’s as strange as anything else that TMBG has released over the year, with its strange time signature and even stranger theme, it also has two distinct sections as well, which gives it a grafted and DIY feeling.  Another number that comes across as decent, but not amazing.

13 - McCafferty’s Bib

“McCafferty’s Bib” is a strange, minimalist piece about one fact, the mystical bib of McCafferty.  You are either going to like this repetitive drone or not, it has a beautiful quality, but it’s not for everyone.

14 - The Greatest

“The Greatest” is another minimalist piece towards the ends of this album, which is over very quickly. With a tale about wanting to achieve greatness, but not being able to reach that level due to a lack of a sarcastic streak is strangely hypnotic.  But I’m under no illusion that it’s not for everyone, with that said, the average TMBG fan is not someone who is not that bothered with the mainstream, to be honest, a bit like the band themselves.

15 - Last Wave

Ending the album on a rocking note, “Last Wave” sees TMBG look at the end game of existence, stating that we all die alone, much the way that we come into this world and it’s our every second thought.  I love this for all the wrong reasons, maybe it’s the macabre nature of the song, the fact it looks Death in the eye and says, “fuck it, let’s do this”!  But it gives this album a brilliant finale!

I Like Fun does exactly what it says on the tin - it's a fun album of 15 short songs of variant quality, with the usual mix bag of results from TMBG.  I don't think it would be a TMBG albums if there wasn't a moment that came from their own left field and you had to consider for a long time.  Even though the songs are short, you really could knock four of these off and it wouldn't affect the outcome for me (unless it's the first three, they're golden!).  It's also an album that works best when played in one run, it's not one that sounds so good when you focus too much on.  As I mentioned before, it’s a strange beast and the band are focusing on their core strengths, which includes their ability to look at things from the outside and see the strange, the bizarre and the beauty in nature.  I love that these guys are still going, that they have lots of strange and bizarre things to say to everyone.  The world would be a darker place without them, and there would be a little less fun in the world as well.

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out.

Top track - An Insult to the Fact Checkers

You can pre-order I Like Fun on Amazon here.

You can visit the They Might Be Giants website here (and you can also pre-order the album and various bundles) here.

You can follow the activities of They Might Be Giants on Facebook here.

At the time of writing, I Like Fun is not on streaming sites.  If this changes once the album is released, I'll up the links here.  If not, you'll have to purchase it.

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