They Might Be Giants - Glean (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

They Might Be Giants

Glean (2015)


Glean is no exception. While they certainly aren't challenging what is seen as conventional by the world of rock music anymore, they are still one of the few bands who arrived at the same time “alternative” started being tossed around by music critics that have not only stuck around, they've done so without sounding stale.

The first thing many TMBG diehards will notice with this album is several of the songs could be found on the revival of their Dial-A-Song prior to this release. Which is something, in and of itself, worth mentioning. Well before the idea of making music available, in what is essentially an on demand format, the Johns created Dial-A-Song and in doing so gave their fans what was essentially free, at will, access to their music. Now, TMBG was never a punk band in the musical sense of the word. But, while many of their contemporaries were speaking out against Capitalistic ideals and the corporate music structure … they were actually bucking both systems with their Dial-A-Song program. Now, back to your regularly scheduled album review.

Many people have always faulted the Johns for writing absurdest lyrics that are seemingly too silly for their own good. However, like any good comic, the humor has always been a mask for much darker subject matter. They even skip the humor on some tracks, such as “Answer” which opens with the lyric, “Year after year though every dream of a pony would end in tears. The cake was lit and you blew the candles out. Your heart refilled, and every year your dream was killed.” Which despite the catchy pop back drop are some of the more heart breaking lyrics I've heard this year. Actually, song like this made me reevaluate TMBG in a manner I couldn't when “Particle Man” first hit my ears for the first time. It may be a stretch for some, but songs such as this have started making me revisit their back catalog and realize these guys would be right at home on a tour with a band like The Mountain Goats.

As I said though, the band is known for their absurdest lyrics and this album is no exception. As tracks such “Madam, I Challenge You To A Duel” find them singing “Madam, you mistake me for a bumpkin. It’s clear you’re yelling something oh please don’t bust a lung.” While the lyric itself is certainly silly, the song is ultimately about love lost and someone realizing the relationship they are in is beginning to crack.

Musically, the band puts forth what comes off a fairly conventional nineties alternative rock music. But, as one of the bands that helped develop that sound, that’s not only okay its welcome because they are still able to make it sound as fresh as they did over twenty years ago. This isn't to say the band doesn't step outside of this shell. The drumming, keys, and horn section on “Let Me Tell You About My Operation” would have been at home on 1940’s jazz radio if the vocals were cut by one of the many great jazz singers from that era.

This album isn't going to open any new doors for this band, the days of their songs taking alternative radio by storm have long passed and it’s unlikely they’ll ever release something that can be called a game changer like Lincoln or Flood ever again. And that isn't because the music isn't of that caliber anymore; this album would have been considered a classic had it come out in the mid-nineties. They Might Be Giants long ago carved out a vast niche for themselves in the world of music and they’re comfortable there. Yes, it’s a familiar ride. But, it’s also a fun one.