Posted on the Sputnik Music Website on September 30:
I had it in my head that this was going to be kind of a throwaway album, but there's actually some pretty good stuff on here.
For the unfamiliar, They Might Be Giants are essentially the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell. In the mid-'80s, one of the ways they promoted themselves was by setting up "Dial-A-Song", where they would record a new song every day on their answering machine, and people could call in and listen to the song for free. Over the years, the Dial-A-Song service evolved, first into a website, and then into podcasts, until it was eventually discontinued in 2008.
In 2015, the TMBG announced they were reviving the Dial-A-Song service for a full year. Ultimately, the songs on the new service were released as three separate albums, Glean and Why? in 2015, and Phone Power in 2016.
I have to admit, I haven't listened to Glean or Why?, but when I was looking for some new music to check out earlier this year, I decided to give Phone Power a try. I'm glad I did.
There are 18 tracks on the album, and I'd be lying if I said all of them good. But I'd say that at least half of them are decent, and a few are excellent.
My favorite so far is a strange number called "Trouble Awful Devil Evil". This is a slow, dreamy song with sweet-voiced vocals and some weird electronic pulsing going on, as the protagonist describes blissfully sinking into a bottomless pit and falling for 10,000 years, all of the while remaining oblivious to an armageddon going on around him. And haven't we all been there?
Two other strong tracks are "ECNALUBMA" and "I Love You for Psychological Reasons". I'd describe both of them as being in the same classic TMBG style as their 1988 single "Anna Ng", where the individual lines of the chorus went on way longer than lines usually do, all the while slithering and twisting off into unexpected musical directions. "ECNALUBMA" describes the sudden destructive impulses felt by the singer at the birth of the title character of the song, who seems to be a sort of demon or elder god of some kind. As for "I Love You for Psychological Reasons", it could be about insanity. Or a psychologically abusive relationship. Or both. Or neither. I have no idea, as the lyrics wind along in a dizzyingly and maybe directionless fashion. The one thing I do know is that I like it.
There's also a speeded up and rockier alternate version of "Black Ops", a song originally recorded on the band's 2013 Nanobots album. I think this one benefits greatly from the speeded up pace.
As you can tell, the album abounds with examples of TMBG's strange sense of humor, as people go back in time to thwart one another's assassins (but not really), characters wear Yoda masks and talk like Lou Ferrigno at a convention, and shape shifters take over the planet.
They Might Be Giants has never been everyone's cup of tea. But if you've enjoyed their past material, you'll like them here too. Dial-A-Song or not, this is definitely not a throwaway album.
Rating: 3/5 stars