It’s probably fair to say that there are mixed opinions when it comes to Severe Tire Damage. An album of largely live performances, of the two studio tracks, one is one of They Might Be Giants’ undisputable classics, “Dr Worm”, the other is a short and sweet instrumental acting as a bridge between “Dr Worm” and the live tracks.
The live tracks themselves don’t try and con us into thinking that they are all taken from the same performance, so fadie out where necessary. Where some would no doubt prefer that more effort had been put into creating seamless transitions to give the impression of one performance, the fact that some are live tracks recorded in sound checks, others in front of audiences of different sizes, makes this something of a fools errand, where more effort being potentially put into the gaps between the songs, than the songs themselves. By not hiding the fact that this is a range of different performances, it gives Severe Tire Damage a refreshingly honest feeling.
With songs taken from every point in their career up to the time of recording, They Might Be Giants are audibly having fun throughout, be it the way they thrash through “Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)”, or the way they sing the riff on the accordion and vocal only “Meet James Ensor”. Something which is often overlooked when assessing the output of TMBG is how awesome a live guitarist John Flansburgh is, something which is on display throughout Severe Tire Damage, though proceedings are often dominated by Linnell’s keyboard work.
As a short and sweet representation of TMBG in a variety of live scenarios, Severe Tire Damage is a fun offering, giving us their big hit, unreleased gems, early prototypes of songs that would later become much loved. Yes, there will be the inevitable minor arguments about if these live versions are superior or inferior to the studio originals, but that’s missing the point a little – Severe Tire Damage is a knockabout fun album, it’s not meant to be analysed for deep meaning or scrutinised until the paint starts to peel. It’s just supposed to be inconsequential and entertaining. If you prefer They Might Be Giants’ studio albums, then that’s no big deal, Severe Tire Damage is just a chance to get an impression about what TMBG can be like on stage. Sometimes, they’re even better than this, sometimes, they’re not quite as good, these are just examples.
Following the main live tracks Severe Tire Damage closes with a clutch of hidden tracks which form a Planet of the Apes informed suite of tunes. Although of varying sound quality, none of them sound any better than an amateur bootleg and like the other live tracks, no effort has been made to hide the fact that they were recorded at different gigs. Obviously not taken seriously, the suite covers a range of styles, from lounge jazz, to sweaty riff rock and many fans will opt to stop the album before they start. That’s okay though, the suite is something which is effectively a fun freebie, rather than something to be taken seriously.
Severe Tire Damage isn’t an album that you should buy before any of They Might Be Giants’ studio releases, but rather one that’ll stand on the shelf next to them. Relax. Have fun. Everyone else is.