Having extracted themselves from the Elektra record label, They Might Be Giants spent the late 90s keeping relatively low key, with the live Severe Tyre Damage and the early internet oddity Long Tall Weekend being the only albums added to their already interesting CV. By 2001 though they had a backlog of material to clear, and a medium sized career to re-establish, ultimately returning with Mink Car’s jumble of pop styles.
In typical TMBG style, things are not straightforward, therefore we here in the UK got a version of Mink Car that not only had a different running order, but had five songs removed from its track listing and featured another two not on the original USA release.
Mink Car is an album that throws conventional tone and flow of an album out of the window, therefore sounds not so much a coherent release, as a demonstration of their stylistic range, which wouldn’t work for many acts, but does for TMBG.
Such oddities aside, the ever shifting pop styles of Mink Car reminded the wider world what a diverse pop act TMBG could be. Opener “Man, It’s So Loud In Here” goes full on dance-pop and features a chorus which owes a debt to The Pet Shop Boys more upbeat moments, “Boss of Me” is a potent shot of power pop, and would be recognised by a lot of listeners as the theme to Malcolm in the Middle, “I’ve Got a Fang” is a relentlessly claustrophobic number which leaves the listener sounding uneasy and the title track is a sweet slice of TMBG oddness.
Taken as a whole, Mink Car is a solid demonstration of TMBG as a musically diverse pop act, and generally the songs offered are of a high caliber, with two absolute stand outs. “Cyclops Rocks” is a manic and anthemic punk-pop workout, featuring Cerys Matthews in a screamed vocal cameo that was intended for Joe Strummer prior to his ill-timed passing. The other undoable highlight is “Bangs”, and ode to great hair delivered in an alt-rock style that no one except TMBG can pull off without sounding just a little bit silly.
If any criticism can be aimed at Mink Car, it’s that it loses pace a little as it’s final third starts, but given that the whole album is an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of indie pop styles, perhaps that’s more down to the listener being a little disorientated than anything else.
With Mink Car, They Might Be Giants returned to the arena of modest sized rock stardom and they’ve never taken much time off since. It’s the album that re-established what they were all about and gave notice that the creativity of The Two Johns remained undimmed.