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John Henry

63 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 13, 1994
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Editorial Reviews

They Might Be Giants expands to a sextet on its fifth album, John Henry. Even with the addition of bass, drums, sax, and trumpet, the focus is still on the goofy vocals, silly lyrical puns, and accordion-driven hooks of John Flansburgh and John Linnell, and that is not a good thing. These 20 songs include a tune that quotes Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," love songs to a dirt bike and a copy shop clerk, and a song that takes its lyrics from Alice Cooper song titles. If that sounds like your idea of clever, enjoy. --Jim DeRogatis

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 13, 1994)
  • Original Release Date: September 13, 1994
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Elektra / Wea
  • ASIN: B000002HFL
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #122,681 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By J. T. Nite on August 13, 2000
Format: Audio CD
TMBG graduate from drum machines and samples to a full band on this album, and the results are great. Purists label this TMBG's "bad" album, but I believe the full band lends these songs a shot of adrenalin. The lyrics are as good as ever, and they fit well into their new, energetic fixtures.
So many good songs -- the bells of "Destination Moon," the trippy distorted vocal on "Self called nowhere," the theremin on "AKA Driver." There are big rock songs and small gems throughout. Even a seeming throw-away like "Meet James Ensor" is a perfect pop confection (and probably the only song of that genre about a famous dutch artist).
I don't get the jibe "if that's your idea of clever" in the Amazon review. If an album that incorporates Alice Cooper, James Ensor, and Alan Ginsberg in the same 18 songs isn't clever, one wonders what is.
If you can deal with the fact that this album has a different sound than the first four TMBGs, you'll love this stuff.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Henry Platte on August 13, 2004
Format: Audio CD
John Henry sounds as good as any TMBG effort, but on inspection, I think it also proves to be one of their deepest and most cohesive albums. Random cleverness is replaced by a subtle, consistent mood, total lyrical abstraction begins to give way to a message, and the individual songs are great. Besides, with a full twenty songs (almost an hour of music), there's bound to be something on here for everyone.

Most of the songs on Henry have a darker tone, whether explicitly (Why Must I Be Sad?; The End of the Tour) or subtly, coded into the lyrics (Destination Moon, Spy, Sleeping in the Flowers). The sound is also vaguely more _metal_ than the sort of candy-coated synthesizers and horns that characterized their earlier albums (not that there's any absence of horns), from the rough-edged harmonica opening of Subliminal to the grungy guitars on Sleeping In The Flowers and others. It may seem more commercial to some, but this sound is still entirely distinct.

As for the theme of the lyrics, it may seem hypocritical for a band which used to be more machine than man to entitle one of their albums John Henry ("a man aint nothing but a man / but before I let that steam drill beat me down / I'm gonna die with a hammer in my hand, yessir; etc.") and record a song like Thermostat, an impassioned plea against the dangers of modern automation. But the sentiment is real, and portraits of human alienation and loneliness (Spy) placed alongside villanous characterizations of machines (AKA Driver; Dirt Bike) suggest a unity which no TMBG album has had to date. The result is a deeper listening experience relying on more than puns for its effect.

As for the individual songs, the upbeat Destination Moon and James Ensor just sound terrific; some of my favorites.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Wakko on November 30, 2000
Format: Audio CD
Well, what can I say? TMBG have done it again. Some people have said that John Henry is not as good as some of TMBG's other albums. To those people, I say it is your loss. This album is without a doubt, one of TMBG's best. Granted, some of the instrumentation sounds more like mainstream rock, but the lyrics are pure TMBG. My favorite tracks are; Subliminal, Sleeping in the Flowers, AKA Driver, I Should Be Allowed to Think, Extra Savoir Faire, Spy, O Do Not Forsake Me, No One Knows My Plan, Meet James Ensor, Thermostat, Out of Jail, and End of the Tour. Spy is one of my favorites because it sounds like a song that would be heard in a spy movie. O Do Not Forsake Me sounds like songs that I've heard my grandparents listen to. That statement is not ment as an insult, I prefer my grandparents' music to some songs I hear today. The song End ofthe Tour: It is TMBG's saddest song. Sure, a lot of their songs aresad, but those songs are usually disguised by up tempo rhythyms and peppy melodies. End of the Tour is just beautiful, and I'm glad the Johns wrote it. And as a final message to those who dislike this album, if you really want TMBG to not change, if you want nothing but Birdhouse in Your Soul or Particle Man, don't buy this album. People change over time, and as the people change, their tastes change. So don't get mad if TMBG makes changes that don't suit you.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on March 30, 2006
Format: Audio CD
Okay. I absolutely adore this album. Critics panned it, but screw them--what do they know? From the hard-rocking "Snail Shell", to the bouncy "Destination Moon", to the beautifully sad "The End Of The Tour", this album is awesome.

Now for a track-by-track analysis.

1. Subliminal (2:45) - Pretty good. The backwards portion at the end is really cool. 4/5

2. Snail Shell (3:20) - Awesome. This song rocks out loud, pure and simple. 5/5

3. Sleeping In The Flowers (4:30) - This song is just cool. The chorus is really different from the verses, but it works. 5/5

4. Unrelated Thing (2:30) - Everyone hates this one, but I think it's good. 4/5

5. AKA Driver (3:14) - Another song that just rocks. 5/5

6. I Should Be Allowed To Think (3:09) - This is a song about teen rebellion, I think, and somehow, it works. 5/5

7. Extra Savoir-Faire (2:48) - Eh. One of the weaker tracks. 3/5

8. Why Must I Be Sad? (4:08) - Cool, in a dark sorta way. 5/5

10. O, Do Not Forsake Me (2:30) - This one's weird, but I kinda like it. 4/5

11. No One Knows My Plan (2:37) - This one's good for dancing! 5/5

12. Dirt Bike (3:05) - Another slightly weaker one. 3/5

13. Destination Moon (2:27) - This is an awesomely bouncy song, but knowing TMBG, the lyrics are darker. I love it! 5/5

14. A Self Called Nowhere (3:22) - Another dark, yet REALLY cool one. 5/5

15. Meet James Ensor (1:33) - Weaker. 3/5

16. Thermostat (3:11) - This one's really catchy and cool. 5/5

17. Window (1:00) - Nice. Has a very theme song-ish quality. 4/5

18. Out Of Jail (2:38) - Another extremely catchy song, with a very twisted theme. 5/5

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