They Might Be Giants
Factory Showroom (Elektra 61862)
Woof! This album might qualify as my biggest disappointment of the 90s, including my third unsuccessful suicide attempt. They Might Be Giants, who had been teetering on the verge of making a bad album for a couple albums, actually manage to make an album I'd really rather not have to hear. Johns Flansburgh and Linnell (especially Flansburgh) grasp at straws and miss, miss, miss.
The titles alone give you a pretty clear idea that this is going to be a stupid experience, although given TMBG's proven cleverness, they could just as easily have turned out a "How Can I Sing Like a Girl?" that was good. Well, maybe that one was doomed from the get-go. At any rate, the album opens with "S-E-X-X-Y" and demonstrates what happens when a totally amazing arrangement happens to a petrified crap of a song. Skip after thirty seconds.
"Till My Head Falls Off" is typical Linnell frenetic melodicism, but would be better served as a lesser song on a better album. Here, it's one of the few things you can hold onto as you suffocate. "Sing Like a Girl" just sucks. Skip. Flansburgh at his worst, trying to write some sort of serious/funny song. Dumb, and more dumb as well.
"Exquisite Dead Guy" finds Linnell's morbidity becoming obtuse unmemorable except that you remember it being annoying. "Metal Detector," on the other hand, is Linnell at his best: in fact one of TMBG's best songs, augmented by lots of great cheesy keyboards. Wonderful song, but only serves to set you up for the remaining kicks to the neck and head that await.
"New York City" is a cover Flansburgh trying to muster up some indie credibility? Idiot. Another dumb four-chord song, and not done particularly well. Skip. "Your Own Worst Enemy" is fair (a B+ maybe); would have been a great track on a Linnell solo album (hint, hint). Some very good lyrics, too; reminiscent of "They'll Need a Crane."
"XTC Vs. Adam Ant" ugh. Flansburgh's well has been dry for years, yet they keep letting him record. He really needs to get into a disfiguiring accident or something, to lend his moronic songcraft some weight. Skip.
"Spiraling Shape" is a "loungey" version of the more typical TMBG-sounding song fromwhat was it, "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?" I think so. Boring. And lame. "James K. Polk," another remake, doesn't out-do the original, but isn't terrible. Some interesting instrumentation, though the singing saw is pretty forced. I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing, though. "Pet Name" is so-so Flans sounds better than it actually is. Good bass line, pretty bad lyrics. Flansburgh seems to be trying to veer into an Elvis Costello area, but it ain't workin'.
"I Can Hear You" is TMBG at their most "gifted-class" recorded on an Edison wax cylinder, the central joke being that it sounds like a recording from the 1920s but it has all sorts of modern references. (Funny!) Flansburgh ruins it by overemphasizing the anachronisms ("CAR" etc), but Linnell gets the most preening moment award as he proudly introduces the song as being "made at the Edison laboratory." Sounds like he's in 8th grade. "The Bells are Ringing" is so-so Linnell, features some fairly humorous vocal parts.
Factory Showroom sounds good (sonically) and perhaps will fool some people into believing it's an inspired album. Nope. The only thing it inspires is the wish that TMBG had disbanded after John Henry. This is not a bad album, but it's an astoundingly bad They Might Be Giants album.
(Note: there is a hidden track preceding track 1, fyi.)
Review by Tiny Marks