Ana Ng and I are getting old, and we still haven’t walked in the glow of each other’s majestic presence
So goes the chorus to this luxurious alt rock staple from 1989. The behemoths of the quirky clever, They Might Be Giants solidified their firm stance in the conscious of modern day audio entrepreneurs with Ana Ng, the first single off their 2nd album, Lincoln.
It’s understandable that TMBG are an acquired taste, but respect must be given to the longevity of their determined, recorded output. With 16 studio albums under their belt, and absolutely no sign of slowing down, the two Johns will, in my opinion, and when the final dust has calmly settled, be revered as pioneers within the global scope of modern day recorded sound. AKA, I dig ’em.
The Avatars of They, before they were so known, switched from a quirky, two-piece, drum machine-heavy outfit to a full-fledged live ensemble with their fifth full length, 1994’s John Henry. One of only two TMBG CDs owned by yours truly back in High School, John Henry was on par with the critically, and fan, acclaimed Flood, their 1990 offering, for reasons, upon initial spinning, that are glaringly apparent.
Released on vinyl for the first time (on Asbestos Records), John Henry was one of the last remaining “need to own on vinyl” albums on my “never released on vinyl” wishlist. Thankfully, opportunity, and an understanding SO, allowed for this double LP to (finally) come home.
So much personal grief has been filtered through these 20 tracks, with specific, loathing, heartbroken attention diligently paid to A Self Called Nowhere. It’s exceptionally difficult to listen to this lamenting track and not picture the narrowing walls of my basement bedroom, all the while desperately (and at times violently) seeking any form of alleviation from the inevitable pains of one’s first breakup. A Self Called Nowhere was my internal theme for far too many weeks, and it helped to push me through an experience that callused my nerves like the fallout of first relationships are rightfully meant to do.
Bar/None, one of the best singles to emerge from 1987, They Might Be Giants’ Don’t Let’s Start is a mindnumbingly-catchy little diddy that, when coupled with its amazing video that frequented the vid-screens of MTV, saw TMBG shooting harmonized-lighting into the ear-holes of everyone outside the confined NYC arena.
The Don’t Let’s Start single/EP/whatever-you-call-it contains the genre-bending favorite, The Famous Polka. If ever there was a fast-paced, accordion heavy, punk-polka anthem, it would be The Famous Polka (a personal favorite of The Prudent Groove).
Before the Band of Dans, before the TMBG-ified big-band-sound, there were two Johns, Linnell & Flansburgh. Stripped down compared to their more recent work (anything past 1994), Don’t Let’s Start showcases the clever wit of these two mad-genius John boys. The following lyric captures the whimsically-savvy, yet devotedly-bleak outlook of TMBG, and is arguably the best line the band has ever written:
No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful
Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful
I’m contemplating having the above phrase inscribed onto my epitaph. It’s a phrase that needs to be chanted from the mouths of babes for a solid 15 minutes at least once a day. That’ll learn ’em to see beauty!
If you’re new to the whole They Might Be Giants thing, start with their early work. Their fresh jams are like, totally proficient, man, don’t get me wrong, but nothing beats classic TMBG.