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chadd
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Posted: July†13†2007 at 2:02pm | IP Logged Quote chadd

I bought The Else on Wednesday and didnít have a chance to listen to it until Thursday. I canít just pop in new TMBG music and listen to it between meals and work and errands. I have to set aside a block of time and devote a couple hours to listening and re-listening.

I went to my local media store and there were no copies of The Else in the designated TMBG shelf-bin, which was encouraging (sold out already!?), but then again I noticed that the TMBG bin-shelf had no dedicated plastic divider -- instead there was an old beat-up divider that had "CELINE DION" printed on the back. I guess the Flood is really over.

Knowing that this store has new releases all around the place on end-caps and aisle-boats, I went to the customer service desk and almost invented a "who's-on-first" type comedy routine with the 19-year-old Coachella-chick who was working there that day:

Me: Hi, I'm looking for the new They Might Be Giants CD.
Her: The what CD?
Me: They Might Be Giants.
Her: (scoffs) "Might be "? I'll need to know the real name to look it up.
Me: No, that's it. They Might Be Giants.
Her: That's like the actual name of the CD?
Me: You've never heard of They Might Be Giants?

Never imply that a 19-year-old record store clerk hasn't heard of a band if you want her to help you find something.

After an awkward 10-minute shuffle around the store to all the locations where new releases were kept, the pissy little 19-year-old redeemed herself by spotting the store's last copy of The Else behind about six copies of Ryan Adams' new CD.

I'll be honest: I'm not crazy about Mink Car. Sorry. I'm rewinding a little bit here. I've never said this out loud, and I'm not sure that I'm ready to now, but I just didn't get that excited about Mink Car, and I hate myself for it. Before Mink Car, I had only ever loved every TMBG song and record. I even loved the songs that I didn't like that much (like Whistling in the Dark and O Do Not Forsake Me). I even loved the TMBG songs I hated (like XTC vs. Adam Ant)! So it was a big system shock when Mink Car failed to impress me. There were a number of factors that contributed to this. Mink Car is over-produced and overwrought, and it didn't help that TMBG stole their own thunder by leaking lots of pre-album versions of Mink Car songs that listeners seemed to unanimously prefer over the CD versions (I may never forgive them for what they did to Working Undercover for the Man). However, the important thing is that Mink Car taught me that TMBG and their producers ain't perfect. That might be a dumb thing to say, but before 2001, the thought had never crossed my mind.

So, I'll be honest: I'm not crazy about The Else. Donít get me wrong. I don't think TMBG has peaked or sold out or run out of things to say. Theyíre still one of my all-time favorite bands, and I loved their last album. I love The Spine. I think The Spine (along with The Spine Surfs Alone) is the most TMBG-like album since Apollo 18.

On the other hand, The Else, like Mink Car, is un-TMBG-like in many ways. When track 2 (Take Out The Trash) began, I thought that someone had run off with The Else and left me an old Smashmouth CD to listen to. Even some of the Linnell songs (I'm Impressed, Climbing The Walls) sound like counterfeit Linnell songs, as though they were written by someone who really wants to be Linnell but isn't quite as clever.

Still, The Else contains hints of the good ole TMBG. There's some great rhyming and good tunes. Flansburgh brings his crazy voices and his dictionary of hipster camp vernacular, and Linnell has a fresh batch of terribly upbeat melodies to tell his tales of derangement and heartbreak, but both Johns seem a wee bit self-conscious and reluctant to show their true identities, and so there are gaping holes in the ambiance. Like the Mink Car version of TMBG, the TMBG we see in The Else seems more concerned with making a tight, smooth album that people will "get" rather than allowing their grotesque, incomprehensible sides to take over. They seem to be on their best behavior, and thatís no fun.

Of course, no one can keep up such appearances for long. On track 9 Linnell bold-facedly sings the blessedly nonsensical B-movie atomic horror account of the Bee of the Bird of the Moth, and the weirdness continues on track 10 with the dizzying relationship politics of Withered Hope, Very Sad Sack, and their circle of friends and lovers.

I've heard people say (here in tmbg.us and elsewhere) that Flansburgh doesn't hold up his end on The Else. I tend to prefer Linnell songs in general, so I don't think it's fair for me to say that Flansburgh lets this album down. But I'll say it anyway. Flans let The Else down, but only a little. I'll also say that I think Flans songs like 32 Footsteps, For Science, I can Hear You, Spy, and The World Before Later On are much more artistically honest than his "new" loungey stylings, represented by songs like Prevenge, Yeh Yeh, Another First Kiss, and The Shadow Government. I think Flans makes party songs like It's Kickin In and Shadow Government simply because he can (with the aid of Linnell's musical genius and crack producers like Pat Dillett). And even though such numbers can be deliriously fun, especially in the live show, they sometimes come off as contrived ("we need a real toe-tapper here"). The true archetypal Flans song on The Else is not the made-to-order rocker The Shadow Government, it's the track just before, With The Dark. Here we see the familiar mad scientist Flans, who is not embarrassed to experiment with silly voices and weird musical personae (which don't always work) to tell a story that no one will ever figure out.

Every TMBG album since they started working with a full band has at least one classically styled, boot-stomping, barn burning hit song, and the business of coming up that number generally falls to Linnell. John Henry has Subliminal, Factory Showroom has Till My Head Falls Off, Severe Tire Damage has Dr. Worm and They Got Lost. On The Else Linnell's show stopper would have to be The Cap'm. This is an old-school instant classic, the protagonist of which sounds like he probably hangs out with Dr. Worm and the guy from Til My Head Falls Off. The couplet "Look me over I'm the cap'm / Go ahead and mess with me -- you'll find out what will hap'm" made me snort out loud with laughter. I'm sure it's a blast at the live show, both for the band and the audience.

The Else is occasionally good at other parts (The Mesopotamians is apparently Linnell's latest installment in the "learned lyrics" series), but of course the most special thing about The Else is the bonus CD, Cast Your Pod to the Wind. Almost a fully realized album in itself, it once again demonstrates TMBG's freakish fecundity. Name another band that can release a CD and then just throw in an extra 23 podcasted tracks that they didn't know what to do with (and then sell it at the 1-CD price).

Cast Your Pod to the Wind (a reference, I suppose, to the Vince Guaraldi song) more than makes up for The Else's shortcomings, and I can't help but think that was actually the purpose of Cast Your Pod -- sort of the band's way of saying, "Listen, I know the chicken was a little underdone, so let me cook you a hamburger really quick. Here, have some more potato salad while you wait."

At the same time, the sheer amount of music on Cast Your Pod irks me. Hardshell TMBG fans (myself included) have long lamented the band's departure from high track counts (Melody, Fidelity, Quantity -- 13 tracks? Ahem. What quantity?). However, sub-album releases like Long Tall Weekend, TMBG Unlimited, The Spine Surfs Alone, and now Cast Your Pod are proof that although TMBG albums with 18 or 20 tracks are a thing of the past, it certainly didn't have to be that way. There are at least seven tracks on Cast Your Pod that could have been cleaned up and strategically dropped into The Else to make it taste a little more like The Spine (or even John Henry!). Brain Problem Situation may be the best song on both CDs, and the very next track, Sketchy Galore, would almost completely redeem Flansburgh of the sins he commits on The Else. Why the songs Employee of the Month and Why Did You Grow A Beard were not released as fully produced songs on The Else is a mystery that would keep the 9-11 Commission's lips moving for a year, and tiny treats like My Other Phone is a Boom Car and Mexican Drill are the bits of hysterical and disturbing fluff that define TMBG. The song Letterbox, which hides out near the end of Flood (side 2 on the record?), clocks in at a little less than a minute and a half, could never get played on the radio, and makes almost no sense. Nevertheless, no knowledgeable TMBG fan would fail to recognize this song as a true classic, indispensable, and brilliant. Is it just me or is TMBG lately disinclined to create and release such treasures on their full-length albums?

So, while my admittedly too-high expectations were undershot by The Else, Cast Your Pod fills the gap and I will have no compunction in blending the two discs on my mp3 player in the same way I do with The Spine and The Spine Surfs Alone (I always listen to the two in tandem -- they're in the same directory, as though Surfs Alone is a continuation of The Spine).

But even if Cast Your Pod had not been released as a bonus CD with The Else, I wouldn't panic or get depressed about a sub-par TMBG full-length album. There are several songs on The Else that are new favorites for me, and after more than 20 years my favorite band is still touring and making highly anticipated and well-rounded records. Most bands in this stage of life are only just now getting back together for 10-year reunion tours in which they sound like they're covering their own songs. After Mink Car, I've realized that not even TMBG can put out a perfect record every time, and I'm cool with that.

Edited by chadd on July†13†2007 at 2:32pm
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King Weed
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Posted: July†14†2007 at 11:04am | IP Logged Quote King Weed

I share your sentiments, with the exception that I liked Mink Car.  The Spine was for me the one I had to first push through.  The John's seem to have confirmed your suspicion about not putting the "true" TMBG on the main album, because I remember a Linnell comment that The Spine Surfs Alone contained the tracks that only true fans would be able to tolerate, or something like that.  Now it looks like they did it again with the Else, but this time just threw the gems in a bonus CD and sold it right along side.  I haven't picked it up yet.  I can't wait.

 



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makebase
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Posted: July†16†2007 at 3:20pm | IP Logged Quote makebase

chadd wrote:

Me: Hi, I'm looking for the new They Might Be Giants CD.
Her: The what CD?
Me: They Might Be Giants.
Her: (scoffs) "Might be "? I'll need to know the real name to look it up.
Me: No, that's it. They Might Be Giants.
Her: That's like the actual name of the CD?
Me: You've never heard of They Might Be Giants?

I recall having almost the same conversation at my local "Music-R-Us" outlet when I was looking for No!

chadd wrote:

When track 2 (Take Out The Trash) began, I thought that someone had run off with The Else and left me an old Smashmouth CD to listen to.

Why doesn't anyone like this track?  I can't seem to get enough of it.  Maybe it's the prominence of the bass, which is far too rare in rock songs IMO.  The lyrics are a bit straightforward for TMBG (even for Flans), but it's a great song.


chadd wrote:
Still, The Else contains hints of the good ole TMBG.

I think the bonus disc especially sounds like something from the early days of TMBG.  It's full of those "That was great, but is that all?" moments that I remember from the first time I heard the Pink album.

Someone on the newsgroup expressed concern that he couldn't tell the "real songs" from the throwaways on the bonus disc (I don't recall him naming names, but I would conclude "Morgan in the Morning" would be one of those).  I am reminded of something Edgar Allen Poe said about literature.  Writing is supposed to produce a mood upon the reader.  A tale may have a moral, but a good tale will leave the reader with a certain effect.  This is why all his writing has such a particular "feel" to it.  Often you remember the creepy language of Poe rather than the subtext of the plot.  It's also why Poe mainly stuck to shorter poems and short stories.  He thought having to stop in the middle and come back ruined the effect, so he kept his writing in bite-sized pieces.

Many TMBG songs seem to follow this mantra.  They are musicological moods or colors.  They narrate less than they establish a mood.  Take "Mexican Drill".  What story does it tell?  But, can you forget that pounding riff?  The album proper seems to hold such at arm's length, but the bonus disc is ripe with this TMBG staple.

chadd wrote:
I've heard people say (here in tmbg.us and elsewhere) that Flansburgh doesn't hold up his end on The Else. I tend to prefer Linnell songs in general, so I don't think it's fair for me to say that Flansburgh lets this album down. But I'll say it anyway. Flans let The Else down, but only a little.

I think the real issue with The Else is the production.  I like the whole album, and when I have the disc spinning I don't skip songs; but when I transferred tracks to my iPod, only certain tracks made the cut.  I didn't know it until I had the physical release with the liner notes in my hand, but I had transferred all the Pat Dillett tracks to my iPod, and that's all.  I like "Cap'm" et al, but I don't find them buzz-worthy.  I love the D-Bros, but I find their tracks a little over-produced this time.  I guess for me they suffer from "Mink-Car-itis."  Now that I know which tracks are produced by who, the album feels more divided with every listen.

What has struck me as interesting is the bonus disc is not only 9 tracks longer than the album, but track-wise, it could be an album.  It's like this is a double-album, the kind that grammy-winning rockers put out late in their career to show off that "yeah, we really are that great".  Considering both dics together like that kind of weakens the concept of the album, I think--and since the second disc is only for the first run, I guess I shouldn't think of it that way.  I suppose I should just consider this "Miscellaneous T Vol. 4 or 5" or something.

Anyway, I am not as disappointed with the album as it seems most are.  Perhaps it's because I've been listening for several weeks.  Apollo 18 took a while to grow on me.  Perhaps The Else will grow on you likewise.

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The Unknowable
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Posted: July†27†2007 at 3:14pm | IP Logged Quote The Unknowable

They Might Be Giants is my favorite band. That being said, there is no shame in saying that sometimes I just don't instanly like a particular song the first time I hear it.

Ever since Factory Showroom, I have found my self doing more growing into liking the songs rather that instantly liking them right off the bat.

I have grown to really like most of the tracks on The Else, but initally i was really only digging on a few of them.

Wow! do i get an award for the shortest reply? 

(I really love the fact that our forum here is filled will well-thought-out discussion not just fluffy teenaged shout outs)

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chadd
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Posted: July†30†2007 at 4:57pm | IP Logged Quote chadd

Hi,

I can't give out any awards for shortest reply because I'm not an administrator; all I know is that I'll never get that award myself. Heh.

Well, The Else has grown on me -- somewhat. I still don't like that first Flans song and I don't much like The Mesopotamians anymore because it really sticks in my head, and not in a purely good way. If anything, I have grown to like Cast Your Pod more than I did before (and I already liked it a lot).

You know, I noticed a peculiar thing. When I was new to TMBG, which is to say, when TMBG was new, I strongly preferred the TMBG songs that made at least a modicum of sense and had a nodding resemblance to "real" songs. For example, I liked Nothing's Gonna Chance My Clothes better than Chess Piece Face. I liked Purple Toupee better than Shoehorn With Teeth. To quote the guy in Office Space, I celebrated their entire catalog, and nearly all TMBG songs are absolutely bizarre when put alongside, say, a U2 song, but within the world of TMBG songs, I preferred the full-length songs that had at least some clear structure and meaning.

However, now that TMBG seems to have turned its attention to that very sort of song (the more-or-less "ordinary" song), I'm heading in the opposite direction. Actually, I'm not sure if it's a change in TMBG or a change in me, but last night I was working at my computer late at night and I needed something to listen to that would clear out that Mesopotamians song from my brain, so I settled on some TMBG and the first thing I went for was the pink album, knowing that it has all those nutty little song fragments as opposed to polished-up pop songs. Next I listened to Lincoln, not because of chronology but because I wanted to hear Cage and Aquarium (2x) and Where Your Eyes Don't Go (3x). Then it was Misc T and I hit repeat twice when it came to the "Gloria" track. All I can say is, wow, that was a great evening. I haven't listened to any of those albums since the months before Mink Car. But MAN, TMBG has gotten tame in the past 10 years. Even the weird-o beard-o songs of today are banal compared to the real twisted stuff they used to make. What's the weirdest thing on The Else? Bee of the Bird? Psshh. Toddler Hiway makes Bee of the Bird sound like a Mariah Carey cover of a Whitney Houston song written by Burt Bacharach! Okay, there's Boom Car and Mexican Drill and some other neat stuff on Cast Your Pod, but there was a time when the Johns put that kind of stuff right out on the curb -- Pink album, cut 6, side 1: 32 Footsteps! Lincoln, cut 3 side 1: Lie Still, Little Bottle! Flood -- the very first song is a "theme" for the album itself, maybe the first time that's ever been done on a rock record! Apollo 18: two words: Finger! Tips!

I don't want to mourn "their old stuff," and I would never want to see them try to make "Apollo 19," but the band really has changed.

Okay then,
Chadd
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King Weed
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Posted: August†03†2007 at 11:24am | IP Logged Quote King Weed

I love how you say you have to get the Mesopotamians out of your head with some TMBG. I find I agree with you about the change of the band. See my new post for my thoughts about the evolution of the band.

I finally got the disc version of the Else and have been listening to the bonus disc. I find much the same reaction as I had to the Else. I'm Your Boyfriend Now, Brain Problem Situation, Microphone, and Cast Your Pod to the Wind were the standouts. Now, We Live in a Dump, Mexican Drill, Employee of the Month, and Haunted Floating Eye are growing on me. They're kind of more old school as you say.

Edited by King Weed on August†03†2007 at 11:35am


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