* Prices may differ from that shown
They Might Be Giants' latest full-length album (as of July 2007), "The Else", has been a long time coming. While the Giants have teased us with podcasts, anthologies and a children's album over the past three years, their last full-length album was "The Spine" back in 2004. Released on iTunes in May 2007, and on CD two months later, was "The Else" worth the wait?
Things start off unconventionally for the Giants, with the distorted and dark yet subtly catchy "I'm Impressed". The vocals are far less prominent than is typical, and the sound is less poppy than standard (probably reflecting the role the Dust Brothers played in the album's production). It is not immediately endearing but you'll find yourself singing it in your head long after the album's finished - quite surprising for such an atypical tune.
Girl-power power-pop (no, I'm not talking about the Spice Girls) anthem "Take Out the Trash" is next. Upbeat and rocking, it's an unexceptional but solid track. "Upside-Down Frown", the third track, is a middling ballad in the vein of "Another First Kiss" - it's another enjoyable but forgettable song.
"Climbing the Walls", however, is anything but forgettable. The album's standout track, it's quite similar to The Spine's "Wearing A Raincoat" but is far more polished - the production is better, the lyrics sharper and the chorus remarkably catchy. It's quirky without being totally absurd - "now I'm done chewing my nails / hanging my head, chasing my tail / It got so bad I quit my job, and I got a new job climbing the walls" Linnell sings in the chorus. It's up there with "Birdhouse In Your Soul" and "Experimental Film" in terms of memorability and it's perfect single material.
"Careful What You Pack" follows - a wonderful ballad, atmospheric and for some reason vaguely reminiscent of winter to me. Lovely production and vocals, it's another highly recommended track. "The Cap'm" is a great power-pop anthem with a funky undercurrent of crowd clapping throughout and a belter of a chorus.
The next track, "With the Dark", is a weird one. It's like a mini-version of Their earlier "Fingertips" (for those who are unaware, this was a series of around twenty 10-15 second long vignettes on the earlier They Might Be Giants album "Apollo 18"); the song changes direction about seven times throughout the song, and, as might be expected, some parts are more successful than others - personally I prefer the later, more upbeat sections as opposed to the early ballad-like sections. It's a fun piece as a whole.
"The Shadow Government" is next - a song band member John Linnell proclaimed as "finally! a protest song for drug dealers!" It's a great upbeat all-out rock song that semi-ironically calls on "the shadow government" to help out a paranoid drug-dealer. With a beats-per-minute count that occasionally verges on the dangerously high, it's surprisingly singable despite the heavy backing and deals with the subject matter in an amusing way.
"Bee of the Bird of the Moth" is quite an archetypal TMBG track, with its circular reasoning, witty wordplay and funky horns interspersed throughout the catchy verses. "Withered Hope" is a rather surreal song that begins with just a slow techno beat as accompaniment but builds up to a superb horn-and-piano backed ode to one of the Giants' most intriguing, erm, 'characters', Sad Sack.
"Contrecoup" is a reworked version of a track Linnell was challenged to create by a radio show: he had to "create a song using the words contrecoup, craniosophic, and limerent". If any band could do it, the Giants could - and they pull it off impeccably! It's very successful, catchy and interesting - and what other band could make a song about phrenology and head injury so enjoyable?
The album's penultimate track is another stellar power-pop gem. "Feign Amnesia" once again draws you in with a catchy chorus and superb Dust Brothers production and is one of the album's highlights. However, it doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of closer "The Mesopotamians" - a catchy, witty ode to the ancient civilisation (and in particular "Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal and Gilgamesh") with a chorus almost reminiscent of a radio jingle.
The thirteen tracks (a surprisingly low total for a Giants album, but compensated by the fact that this is their first album with no songs that run less than two minutes) run to a total of 38 minutes.
The first pressing of the CD contains a bonus disc, "Cast Your Pod to the Wind", presumably an added incentive to fans who already coughed up for the iTunes version of the album to shell out again. It's 23 tracks from the They Might Be Giants Podcasts, remastered for this CD version. A track-by-track breakdown is not really necessary considering most are little more than 1-2 minute novelties (the 23 tracks only total 40 minutes altogether) but a few tracks are noteworthy. "I'm Your Boyfriend Now" is a catchy little number worthy of inclusion on the album proper; "Why Did You Grow A Beard?" is a nice well-rounded rock tune; the live version of "Metal Detector" is almost as good as the standout original; and "Brain Problem Situation" is catchy and quirky in equal measure. Unfortuately most of the tracks here are forgettable novelties, however, so the disc really only merits a single listen all the way through - but it's still a welcomed bonus.
The two CDs come packaged in a standard jewel case; the second disc is accessed by pulling the CD holder away from the back of the case. Lyrics are included (though there are a couple of minor transcription errors!) As the CD is still a new release (in fact, it hasn't even been officially released in the UK yet, though it's easy to get an import) you'll be paying around a tenner online when postage is taken into account.
To conclude, then, "The Else" was definitely worth the wait. It surpasses the inconsistent "Spine" and the mediocre "Mink Car" to become Their best album in ten years, maybe more; and those able to get their hands on a first pressing of the set get the added bonus of an, admittedly patchy, must for fans.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 I'm Impressed
2 Take out the Trash
3 Upside Down Frown
4 Climbing the Walls
5 Careful What You Pack
7 With the Dark
8 Shadow Government
9 Bee of the Bird of the Moth
10 Withered Hope
12 Feign Amnesia