They Might Be Giants
Lincoln (Restless/Bar-None 772602)
I suppose anyone who has ever undergone a drastic change in musical taste has one album that is mostly responsible for that change. Some people no doubt have heard Miles Davis, The Beatles, or a Hootie & The Blowfish album and realized that they were missing something amazing and incredible, something that reached down deep in them and pushed buttons they never even knew they had. (Though I'd like to crush the spine of whoever was changed by Hootie or at least slap them around).
So it was with Lincoln and me. After an initial period of trouble getting accustomed to just how odd much of it was, I was fully and completely altered no more INXS or Def Leppard albums for me.
"Ana Ng" opens Lincoln, to this day one of the TMBG classics, as well as one of my all-time favorite songs (I was initially introduced to the band via the video). It's one of the most shining examples of John Linnell at the top of his form. Pure, unadulterated wonderfulness from beginning to end. John Flansburgh, ever the second banana, offers "Cowtown" and "Lie Still, Little Bottle," both more or less disposable, though totally enjoyable in the album's context.
The album now hits its stride as the Giants classics keep on coming. (My own "giant classic," sadly, hasn't come at all since an unfortunate encounter with a belt sander back in '01.) "Purple Toupee" takes historic events of the 60s, and throws them through Linnell's lingual kaleidoscope, stringing things together in a manner only he could manage.
"Cage & Aquarium" is basically filler, but a listenable and acceptable lead-in to "Where You Eyes Don't Go," yet more great Linnell that contains the classic line "You're free to come and go/And talk like Kurtis Blow."
"Piece Of Dirt" is typical classic-era Flansburgh, before the well ran dry. "Mr. Me" is bouncy, boppy, and goofy pop that always gets me to crack a smile, belting out "He ended up sad!!!" at the top of my voice, whether I'm alone or sitting at a toll booth.
"Pencil Rain" is Linnell at his most odd, and "The World's Address" is Flansburgh having a pretty good day. "I've Got A Match" I've come to like a lot more than I used to; its just-below-the-surface sadness marks TMBG at their most wistful. The biggest stinker on the disc is track twelve, the obnoxious Flansburgh offering "Santa's Beard," which should never have been included (meanwhile, a great b-side from this era, "Welcome to the Jungle," was left off).
The last third of the disc starts with "You'll Miss Me" which is a tough call. Some days I really like it, others it's a quick-and-dirty skipover. And then there's perhaps the best song in the entire Giants catalog, "They'll Need A Crane" just a fantatstic song, bittersweet and sad. Seems like Linnell was going through a bad breakup, and filtering it through his peculiar songcraft. One of my favorite portions of any Giants song is here, the bridge in the middle: Don't call me at work again/No no, the boss still hates me/I'm just tired and I don't love you anymore/And there's a restaurant we should check out/Where the other nightmare people like to go/I mean nice people/Baby, wait/I didn't mean to say nightmare."
I LOVE that. So honest, yet so unique.
The pure genius exhibited in that track is immediately and perfectly countered by the inspired silliness that is "Shoehorn With Teeth," a Giants live favorite. "Stand On Your Own Head" is okay as filler goes, "Snowball In Hell" is one I used to REALLY dislike, but that I don't really mind now; especially in light of later Giants failures, it seems positively classic in retrospect.
The CD ends with another personal favorite, "Kiss Me, Son Of God." Mmmmm sacrilicious!
Lincoln was such a benchmark for me, an album I so obsessively listened to at one time, that I'm tempted to call it perfect just because. Time has had its way, though, and its impact on me has lessened, and it just isn't as fantastic as it once seemed. Lately, I see it more objectively, finally seeing how some people could just hate this music.
In the TMBG crown, Lincoln is one of the most beautiful jewels, and, in my mind, locked in perpetual battle with Flood for the title of "Best They Might Be Giants Album." Sure, that's hardly a hot contest in the grand scheme of things, but not all of us give a shit about, like, the World Series, you know?
Review by Mario Speedwagon