Music for children is often an awkward art to master. Obviously you want something tuneful and memorable, but you also want to avoid adult themes. Another thing you want to avoid is the music itself being ‘childish’, otherwise it will inevitably grate on the nerves of the parents and therefore only get played under duress.
In 2002 They Might Be Giants cut through the entire problem by recording No!, an album where they aimed their cerebral alternative rock skills squarely at the family market. Catchy enough to hook the kids, while avoiding the pitfalls of repetition and immaturity that annoy parents, it found a happy medium that even impressed some of TMBG’s adult audience that didn’t have children of their own.
Thirteen years later and TMBG are following up No! with Why!, yet another child friendly collection of tunes, this time curated from some of the songs they have been putting up weekly on the dial-a-song service. Of course in the interim TMBG have also released their three Here Come the… kid-friendly albums in partnership with Disney, but Why! has been done without any input from the House of Mouse, so as strange as this may seem, it’s actually a little edgier and rocks a little harder.
With songs written around themes of taking responsibility for your actions, tolerance and ecological concerns Why? pulls off a smart trick of not so much being an album of songs for kids, but being an album of songs which don’t necessarily have an adult theme. The beauty of TMBG’s albums for family audiences is that by and large, they don’t talk down to the kids. Instead, they assume that the kids listening to Why? will be quite smart and don’t simplify things too much, as a result songs such as “Omnicorn”, “And Mom and Kid”, “When the Kids Took Over” could have been included on any TMBG album, whether it was for a family audience or not.
Of course, there will be those TMBG fans that avoid Why? simply because it is labelled as a ‘kids album’. That’s a real shame, because they’re missing out on some great little tunes. The material on Why? may have been written be accessible to kids, but it certainly doesn’t make it childish.
Why? is released on 27 November.