They Might Be Giants
Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (Elektra 66631)
Infatuation Webster defines it as "a state of being inspired with a foolish or extravagant love or admiration." Rod Stewart defined it as "I can't sleep and I can't eat/I can't seem to do anything."
First comes infatuation, then comes obsession. Now, I've been a fan of many bands, and I've loved many bands, but the only band that I was ever really and truly infatuated with was They Might Be Giants. Specifically, the They Might Be Giants that existed in the earliest part of the 90s. The TMBG that were, as yet, unspoiled and unjaded by the "success" that signing with a major label brings, and by the tension caused by Flansburgh repeatedly smacking Linnell around in jealous fits of rage. (In my imagination, at least.)
During this time, they released Flood, their first album on Elektra. I absolutely adored some of the songs on Flood while I mostly avoided others a typical approach to enjoying TMBG albums. "Birdhouse In Your Soul," "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair," "Your Racist Friend;" all were songs to be cranked to full volume and sung along with gleefully, while songs like "Hearing Aid" were immediate fast-forwards.
Beyond "Birdhouse," the big single off Flood was "Istanbul," a remake of a 50s song by Jimmy Kennedy. It's a prime Giants song, one that was faithfully cranked and sung along with, though it's not the best track on either Flood or this EP.
That particular distinction goes to "James K. Polk," a song that only John Linnell would/could write, an ode penned to the 11th President of the United States, "Napoleon of the stump."
Most hardcore TMBG fans at least the ones I know are of the opinion that Linnell is the vastly more interesting songwriter of the two Johns. Flansburgh at the top of his game (which is VERY rare) can be cutely fun (see "Sleeping In The Flowers" off John Henry), while Linnell on the top of his game (which is much more often) can be absolutely outstanding. This song is no exception. It's a historical account of the presidential election of 1844, which saw James K. Polk defeat Martin Van Buren ("a former president, and abolitionist"), Louis Cass ("a general and expansionist") and James Buchanan ("a moderate") to become the Democratic party candidate for president.
Despite the seemingly impossible subject matter, Linnell manages to infuse it with enough of his manic energy and "quirky brilliance" I'll be watching the mail for the copyright infringement papers from BMG CD Club to make it a damn fine song in fact, one of the best TMBG songs of all.
You're greeted with a bit of a conundrum after "Polk." "Stormy Pinkness" is, vexingly, a rare Linnell misfire. Some love it, but I contend it's dull, dull, dull. And then, also bucking the stereotype, is the entertaining Flansburgh effort "Ant," which permeates you like a good cognac buzz.
Rounding out the EP is the "Brownsville Remix" of "Istanbul," done by Daddy-O, a founding member of Stetsasonic. The remix itself is a delight. It starts with a sample of a youthful-sounding Janet Jackson asking "You're not taping this, are you?" Next we get a De La Soul-esque sample about a "white tornado," and then we're hit with some of the deepest bass I've ever heard, even in my days as a Miami stripper. The first time I played it in my mom's car (it WAS 1990, you mom-hating pinko) I nearly blew the speakers.
One suspects that around this time that the Johns had either explore all the territory possible with drum machine and synths, or that they were tiring of them. The next (and last) album by the "solo duo" Johns, Apollo 18 was a comparatively half-hearted effort; rather, it was just more of the same.
The band era of TMBG got off to a great start with the underrated John Henry, but it all came crashing down with the very-not-good Factory Showroom.
The Johns and I have grown apart since, but I always get a bit misty when I think back to the good ol' days, when I was repeatedly (and I mean REPEATEDLY) listening to Lincoln, Flood, and my own self-made TMBG compilation, Tabloid Footprints.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go have a good cry while I down a bottle of Rumple Minze and berate myself for using too damn many (way too damn many) parentheses in this review.
Review by Mario Speedwagon