They Might Be Giants
Dial-A-Song – 20 Years of They Might Be Giants
(Rhino 78139)

Ten years ago, it would have been just a ridiculous pipe dream to entertain the thought that one day, They Might Be Giants would release a double disc greatest hits album containing 52 songs. In the event that unlikely event would come to pass, the possibility that I would either be only vaguely aware of, or completely unfamiliar with, a full third of those songs would have been utterly inconceivable.

And yet, here we are ten years on, and it has come to pass. They Might Be Giants has released a 52-song, two disc career retrospective, and I am decidedly unfamiliar with a full fourteen of the songs on it. Somewhere around 1995, I fell off the TMBG wagon, on which I had been a obsessive passenger since about 1989 when I heard "Ana Ng" for the first time. What exactly led to this I donít know. It wasnít the lamented switch to a full band; I loved John Henry, and I still think itís their most underrated album.

Regardless, Factory Showroom was the first album I didnít even buy, and I just really quit paying attention to them for quite a while. But a greatest hits compilation this expansive was a must buy, since it would give me the great stuff, and a chance to hear the songs I had missed.

Unfortunately, as with any greatest hits collection, some of the songs you wish were on it arenít, and there are songs included that just make you say "WTF!!!11" or what ever it is this cool kidz say these days. TMBG have always been a scattershot band with regard to song quality. They can crank out a pop masterpiece like "Birdhouse In Your Soul" or "Theyíll Need A Crane" or "Doctor Worm" one second, and hit you with a piece of elephant dung like "How Can I Sing Like A Girl?" or "S-E-X-X-Y" the next. Thatís not even including the songs that arenít actively horrible, but just donít warrant inclusion here, like "Spider" or "Meet James Ensor."

This whole set also does nothing to sway me from my long-standing opinion that Flansburgh has been dead weight on the whole TMBG operation for years. His great moments ("Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head") are few and far between, and his bad moments ("XTC vs. Adam Ant") are truly fucking awful. Some of his best stuff isnít even represented. Whereís "Dirt Bike" or "Sleeping In The Flowers?"

Donít get me wrong, Linnell isnít infallible by any means – "Exquisite Dead Guy" being just one example of this fact – but when Linnell hits the target, itís wondrous, while Flansburgh merely elicits a reaction like youíd give a retarded kid who finally learned not to eat his own feces.

Yow, time to turn down my Anti-Flans dial, or my anti-retard dial, Iím not sure which. I guess itís all personal opinion anyway. My version of this CD would have included songs like "Turn Around," "Dirt Bike," "A Self Called Nowhere," "Sleeping In The Flowers," "Kiss Me, Son Of God," "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair," and a bunch of others, while leaving off a lot of the middling crap. I have to believe that John and John had a lot of input on the track selection here – I canít see any other reason for many of the inclusions.

Still, itís an album worth having if youíre a big TMBG fan, just because, well, because itís TMBG. And for a casual TMBG fan, if there is such a thing, it would probably do fine as well.

Review by Max Power