TMBG’s Fractured Spine
If titles are ever an indication of a song’s quality, then tracks like “The World Before Later On” and “Prevenge” may well put They Might Be Giants’ The Spine in the running for album of the year. However, songs are songs, and music is the key. Accordingly, The Spine appears to suffer from an unbalanced feel.
Experimental Film, with its playfully winding vocals, kicks off the alterative rock duo’s latest effort well enough with a sound that is undeniably TMBG. But not long after, you will find yourself wading through patches of forgettable songs. “Prevenge” frustratingly undermines the cleverness of its title with painfully obnoxious repetition, while “Bastard Wants To Hit Me” is little more than a filler track masked by Cher-inspired voice distortion. In spite of the songs that fall flat, The Spine does manage a few successes. On “The World Before Later On,” John Flansburgh mourns the abandonment of an idyllic scientifically advanced future, while “Au Contraire,” in line with typical TMBG zaniness, has Gandhi playing cards with Jodie Foster.
What frees the album from the clutches of disaster are the characteristically clever lyrics that redeem, or at least neutralize, otherwise weak tracks. On “Wearing a Raincoat,” a song that sounds like a word association game, John Linnel simply notes that “Turning to drugs to help you sleep / Will only lead to sleep.” “I Can’t Hide From My Mind” illustrates the speaker’s cops-and-robbers-style stand-off with his own mind.
As in all, and contrary to what the title suggests, The Spine lacks the vertebral strength to be considered a strong endeavor. However, the Johns’ lyrical talent yields enough support to anticipate future albums.