There are few things you can rely on in life so much as a They Might Be Giants album.
They come along frequently, BOOK is the duo’s 23rd studio LP; are packed with tracks, 15 here; and often carry serious themes hidden amongst the pristine pop and musical jokes.
BOOK is no different, though its title signals a major bonus, as the band have collaborated with Brooklyn photographer Brian Karlsson and graphic designer Paul Sahre on a 144-page art book to coincide with its release.
The book features some of the band’s favourite lyrics, alongside Karlsson’s photography and every copy includes a CD of the album.
Sahre uses an IBM Selectric typewriter from the 1970s to add a new dimension to the reading experience.
“Paul invested a lot of time working with this odd and kind of crude device and showed that he could do startling things with it,” TMBG’s John Flansburgh explains.
“The rhythms of Paul’s type treatments, combined with Brian’s photography, are really the secret beauty of BOOK.”
Though largely written pre-pandemic, the album was held up by COVID-19 restrictions and contains several songs Flansburgh’s bandmate John Linnell describes as “humorously germane to the catastrophe going on around us”.
That’s never more obvious than on I Lost Thursday, which addresses the malaise so many of us fall into when events like the pandemic disrupt our daily lives.
Featuring a mean, funky Linnell bassline, the song’s protagonist finds himself losing all track of time – one moment all is fine, then a whole day slips through his fingers. “It’s supernatural how spaced out we can be.”
In its closing lines the song seems to directly prefigure our hope for a time when this bewildering period is over and we can get back to some semblance of normality.
“Nights flow right into the next/I’m reading off this text and thinking very fast/This panopticon is full of people sitting still/Until this time has passed.”
Despite the often uplifting music, an undercurrent of ennui courses through the album.
Lord Snowden, inspired by satirist Craig Brown‘s book Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, deals with what its like to be an outsider, someone who never quite feels included, who doesn’t fit in.
While the rather lovely Wait Actually Yeah No with its solemn horns, piano and almost military drums weaves a trail of fragmented memories and misremembered anecdotes.
Like its predeccessor 2018’s I Like Fun, BOOK manages to pack weighty issues into upbeat and humorous arrangements.
I Can’t Remember The Dream, for example, comes over like Louie Louie or Wild Thing – all melodic major chords, but its lyrics convey real despair.
Unpleasant thoughts ‘creep like weeds’ over the poor subject of the song, whose life is such a ‘waking nightmare’ that he craves the escape of a half-forgotten dream.
Similarly dark lyrics feature in I Broke My Own Rule – a subversive singalong, about a character quite possibly heading for breakdown.
Elsewhere there’s classic quirky TMBG comedic wordplay on songs like Brontosaurus and Less Than One ‘I bought half of a timeshare/half of me will be staying there‘.
There’s sinister country on Drown the Clown, poisonings aplenty on Darling, The Dose and what can only be described as flatulent horns on If Day For Winnipeg.
The summery indie-rock of btter break-up track Moonbeam Rays brings to mind early favourite We’re The Replacements.
All in all another cracking effort from the two Johns, it’s always a relief to have a songwriting combination you can count on.
- Officially released by Idlewild Recordings on November 12, BOOK is available to pre-order in a variety of formats here.
- For more about They Might Be Giants visit them on Facebook and Twitter.