They Might Be Giants: Dr. Seuss Meets Dr. Stephen J. Hawkins
John Flansburgh may rock legions of disenfranchised, flannel-clad youth, but he ain’t no slacker.
Calling from his New York City recoding studio Sunday, half of Brooklyn’s alterna-rock team, They Might Be Giants (TMBG) was busy mixing an upcoming live EP.
Short of breath and apologetic, Flansburgh’s Sunday was no day of rest.
“I’m kind of a work-a-holic,” he said. “I have to get into the habit of taking weekends off.”
The duo — Flansburgh and fellow high school newspaper pal John Linnell — kick of a month-long, 13-city “That Pioneer Spirit Tour” at Saratoga Winners Thursday.
The tour follows fresh on the heels of TMBG’s fifth studio release and first full band recording, John Henry.
Exploding with bite-sized, carbonated pop/rock surprises, John Henry cranks up the pair’s unlikely comnbination of electric guitar, accordian and quirky lyrics with a solid, below-the-belt rhythm and horn section.
The full band, who have been touring together since the release of 1992’s Apollo 18 LP, is a virtual who’s who of modern rock: The Silos’ Brian Doherty on drums, Pere Ubu’s Tony Maimone on bass, Band of Weeds’ Kurt Hoffman on sax, and Spanish Fly’s Steven Bernstein on trumpet.
Recorded primarily live in a measly 10 days last winter at Bearsville Studios, Flansburgh said that the full band recording was a natural step for the duo.
“Actually, I wasn’t that confident recording after a couple of albums done under the microscope,” Flansburgh said. But we had performed half of the record in public for an entire tour and recorded demos and rehearsed before we went in.”
“A lot of snowstorms made it a little bit like ‘The Shining’ with a 48-track tape recorder,” he added.
There’s nothing horrific about the results.
From the record’s hook-heavy “Subliminal” to it’s closing opus “The End of the Tour,” the albums 20 tracks are full of twists and treats.
“Sleeping in the Flowers” stomps with heavy tremelo electricity and pure pop delight while “Dirt Bike” fuses a New Orlean’s funeral march with a loungy, funky groove.
For Flansburgh, who was more into underground cartooning than music in high school, TMBG’s stylistic breadth is fantastic and engaging.
Lyrically, TMBG reads like Dr. Seuss and Dr. Stephen Hawkins in a pop culture frappe.
“Our songs work at a lot of different levels of intention. Some are pretty damn insignificant while others are just as ambitious,” Flansburgh said.
“The common misconception is that they’re flip. But they’re very deliberate, very composed songs. We weigh every word carefully. Probably too carefully for our mental health.
“I think we’ve gotten pretty good at creating compelling couplets. The work is in the second verse where we want to break free from the set of ideas that the song has laid out. We end up in a destruction mode.”
“I was bent metal you were aflaming wreck when we kissed on the overpass/I was sailing along with the people driving themselves to distraction inside me/Then came a knock at the door/Which was odd/and the picture abruptly changed,” Flansburgh intones on “The End of the Tour,” then refrains, “The engagements are are booked through the end of the world so we’ll meet at the end of the tour/And we’re never gonna’ tour again/No we’re never gonna’ tour again.”
“Tours are in between a grind and a pleasure. Parts are grind-rageous. It’s the perfect metaphor for a musician’s daily life: a lot of waiting around for doing what you love to do.”
This article first appeared in The Saratogian