Most helpful critical review
9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2011
To quote Wikipedia in describing They Might Be Giants' sound, "They are best known for an unconventional and experimental style of alternative music." and "Their atypical instrumentation, along with their songs which featured unusual subject matter and clever wordplay, soon attracted a strong local following." Yes, that's how I like to remember They Might Be Giants. But alas, how far back must I go in their repertoire to actually find it? For me, 2001's "Mink Car".
I remember seeing the video for "Don't Let's Start" back in 1987 and thinking the two Johns were offering up something fresh and new. "Ana Ng" pushed the envelope even further. "Birdhouse In Your Soul" sealed the deal that this duo was going places. Then the long, slow descent in creativity began, with only "Mink Car" recouping some of the lost ground. Of course their four children's albums padded the last decade, concealing the truth--they were no longer unconventional and experimental, no longer unusual or clever. No, time had caught up to them, and they no longer held the amusement they once possessed.
Like Weird Al Yankovic, how long is it before an audience becomes disinterested in the same silliness? This is the problem with They Might Be Giants. They are now in their 50's, and they show no sign of doing something different. The best artists change and grow and develop. TMBG tried going with a band, they tried using slick production values, they tried moving in a more alternative direction, and they tried to kid's music, but the fact remains that they are not funny or interesting anymore, and when you take that into account, all you're left with is the music, which is fine, but nothing inspiring to listen to. In fact, I found myself dreading listening to "Join Us" all week long.
I listened to every TMBG album leading up to "Join Us" prior to listening to "Join Us". In this band's case, I find their early work to still be their finest. I'm sure this will annoy certain long time fans who believe TMBG just continued to get better and better with time. Like I said, only "Mink Car" stands out to me as taking contemporary sounds and applying it to TMBG effectively. To me, they really had a moment of creativity with "Mink Car" before descending into children's music hell. I like their children's albums, and I find them to be quite good, but what do you do next when your adult music and children's music isn't very different? In some ways, I think their children's albums are more creative and interesting than "The Spine" or "The Else", two albums seriously lacking any TMBG spark.
I could not find anything really enjoyable on "Join Us", but this is nothing different than "The Else" and "The Spine", both of which were also lacking in seriously good songs. The subject matter on "Join Us" didn't even interest me, and that's not how a TMBG album should be. It should hit you left and right like "Lincoln" and "Flood" and even "Apollo 18" and their debut. This is average TMBG. Not their best, not their worst. Just, well, blah. Boring. That's the worst criticism you could give such a duo who gave us so many great songs early in their career, and now we're left with "Can't Keep Johnny Down"? or "You Don't Like Me Much"? Seriously?
Here's how "Join Us" compares to TMBG's previous works:
1986 They Might Be Giants: Four Stars
1988 Lincoln: Four and a Half Stars
1990 Flood: Five Stars
1992 Apollo 18: Four Stars
1994 John Henry: Two and a Half Stars
1996 Factory Showroom: Three and a Half Stars
1999 Long Tall Weekend: Three and a Half Stars
2001 Mink Car: Four Stars
2002 No!: Four Stars
2004 The Spine: Three Stars
2005 Here Comes The ABC's: Four Stars
2007 The Else: Three and a Half Stars
2008 Here Comes The 123's: Three Stars
2009 Here Comes Science: Four Stars
2011 Join Us: Three Stars