With their Dial-A-Song service returning, and a European Tour lined up towards the end of the year, it looks like 2018 is going to be a busy one for They Might Be Giants. Highlight of the year for many will no doubt be their new album, I Like Fun, a long player which on the surface is another great They Might Be Giants album, but repeated listens start to reveal darker and slightly unsettling undercurrents that the very best TMBG albums have when The Two Johns have got something on their collective minds.
I Like Fun kicks off in typical TMBG style with the upbeat sounding “Let’s Get This Over With” being utterly at odds with its downbeat title. From there on in tunes are catchy, lyrics are smart, choruses resplendent, and absolutely nothing outstays it’s welcome. While there are those that continue to foolishly write off TMBG as a jokey novelty act, a glance at the lyric sheet reveals them to be anything but, and the greater emphasis on guitars results in one of the densest TMBG albums, to the point where it almost chewy. This starts as early as second track “I Left My Body”, the latest in a long line of surprisingly heavy rocking TMBG numbers, with “All Time What” and “An Insult to the Fact Checkers” being almost garage rock, and “The Bright Side” being pure power pop.
While it might be tempting to label I Like Fun as TMBG’s most brooding album to date, that’s seriously underplaying the fact that they remain some of the finest creators of uplifting tunes working in the world today, and that precious few bands have their grasp of pop dynamics. They Might Be Giants are one of those few acts that have consistently found the delicate balance between downbeat themes and upbeat music over the last four decades. And if you think that engaging your grey matter and entertaining you with a great pop tune are two things which are mutually exclusive, then I urge you to listen to “This Microphone” and prepare to be surprised.
I Like Fun does everything you want a new TMBG album to do, and it does it really well. While it is unlikely to provide a huge cross-over hit, it will doubtless do what TMBG fans want it to do, which is appeal to TMBG fans’ tastes. They Might Be Giants have always been idiosyncratic enough to stand apart from whatever else is happening in indie / alternative rock for the past thirty odd years, hence their appeal to their fans has never really wavered, and a slight tweak in sonic approach, such as on I Like Fun where guitars are brought to the fore, and woodwinds and brass are taken advantage of (particularly on the title track), will do absolutely nothing to put off the faithful, but instead just lend a slightly wonky, even uneasy, sense to proceedings.
Of course, the fear is now that, with They Might Be Giants twenty full studio albums into their career, and on one of their most prolific, yet consistent rolls, that we as music fans start to get a bit too complacent when it comes to their albums, and that no one will notice should they release their masterpiece in a few years time, as it’ll be considered just ‘another great They Might Be Giants album’. As “Last Wave” closes their latest album, you start to wonder if maybe, given They Might Be Giants albums’ tendency to release albums that only reveal their true stature years after being released, I Like Fun might just be their masterpiece. I guess time will tell, and by then, they’ll have doubtlessly released another clutch of fine albums.