They Might Be Giants’ twelfth album, The Else, opens with one of their strongest songs of the past decade. “I’m Impressed” is catchy and fun and embraces an equal mix of electronics and guitars. And then there are twelve other songs.
Twenty-five years has earned “the two Johns” (Flansburgh and Linnell) a cult fan base, but if you’re not part of it, there really isn’t anything incredible about The Else. Many of the songs sound like imitations of the band’s classics — the rather good closer, “The Mesopotamians,” which tells the story of an unknown band out on tour, is soured once you remember the classic “We’re the Replacements.”
Other tracks seem to misstep as well. “Take out the Trash” is an Elvis Costello by way of Factory Showroom rocker that could have benefited from the Dust Brothers, who produced the album, insisting on another vocal take. “Bird of the Bee of the Moth” has an excellent melody, but the playful round-style verses would have fit better on the band’s upcoming third children’s album. And speaking of lyrics, the once scholarly imagery found within They Might Be Giants songs have now been reduced to “Upside Down Frown”?
Flansburgh and Linnell seem to have perfected the art of writing commercial jingles. That fact is made clear within each of these tracks. And most of these songs are only pleasant for thirty seconds or so. Flansburgh has said “we wanted to be sure this was an album that was our best effort from beginning to end.” They Might Be Giants have delivered something Else entirely.