They Might Be Giants - Why?

by paul_guyet Rating:8 Release Date:2015-11-27

Did you know that clouds are made of bone? What about the fact that the word for 'word' is 'word'? Or that you should never picnic with wolves? Oh, man, your education is just beginning...

In the early 2000s, They Might Be Giants found themselves with a few extra bits of studio time here and there. They decided to take the advice they’d been receiving, unsolicited, since their career started: they recorded a children’s album. It was called No! and it’s unlike any children’s music you’ve ever heard.

After this, they signed a deal with Disney and, between 2005 and 2009, created the Grammy-winning Here Comes trilogy (ABCs, 123s, and Science). Finally, over a decade later, the proper follow up to No! has arrived, and, of course, it is called Why?

The album opens with "Oh You Did" starring the ever-sassy, ever-brassy Robin "Goldie" Goldwasser trying her best to tame unruly children and failing because they've already done the thing they weren't supposed to do. One of the best lines on the album is right here in the opener, specifically "did you just eat a napkin/to find out what would hap-kin?". Throw in a glimpse from the kid's side of things towards the end and the Johns featured as the chastened scamps in question and you have one hell of a strong start. 
For the most part, the album remains strong; the playful, mischievous bass and guitar on "I Am Invisible" matches the childish glee coming from Linnell as he tells us what he chooses to do with his newfound ability, Danny Weinkauf (TMBG bassist and creator of his own excellent kids record, No School Today) takes a moment to explain the dangers of elephants on "Elephants", and "Or So I Have Read" introduces young fans to one of the longest running and most featured characters in They Might Be Giants' three-decades-deep mythology: the Unreliable Narrator..."everything you hear is a fact/and the opposite is also correct".

The strongest tracks on offer, however, are "Out of a Tree", which sprang from a Dunkin' Donuts jingle penned by the band and which comes to full, spectacular fruition here, "Definition of Good", the beautiful "Long White Beard" (another spotlight on Ms. Goldwasser, whose voice is that of your favorite first grade teacher; the perfect blend of instructional, warm, fun, and encouraging), the inspirational, anthemic closer "Then the Kids Took Over", and "Thinking Machine", a bizarre back and forth between the Johns, one of which might be having a stroke. An excerpt:

Flansburgh: uncle fourteen marching flame
Linnell: don’t know what you said
Flansburgh: sleep expensive cloud enjoy
Linnell: still not following
Flansburgh: gurb long trom flom dim fim lim
Linnell: pretty sure that’s gibberish
Flansburgh: dog dog dog dog dog dog dog
Linnell: now you’re just repeating the word “dog”

The only weak link on the whole album is "So Crazy for Books", which belabors the point a bit and doesn't really fit with They Might Be Giants' tilt on the genre. 

 On the whole, Why? feels less experimental than No!, perhaps because capturing that spontaneity and unique moment of creating something completely new has already happened, or maybe their years working within the confines of Disney straightened out their "kid song" thinking a bit too much. Whatever the case, this is still a fabulous record, and, guaranteed, the only kids album you'll ever hear that features the word "skeleton" utilized twice in a non-didactic fashion. They Might Be Giants are insuring that the future is going to be awesome, weird and awesome.

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