At this point, you probably know how you feel about They Might Be Giants. Some of you love their quirky, clever lyrics, their bright melodies, and their sense of fun; they remind you of an indie-pop Sparks, and what could be better than that? Listening to their new album, Join Us, you're reminded of that time when you fell in love with 'Birdhouse In Your Soul' back in the early 1990s, and you're pleased that the band don't seem to have changed much in the meantime. On the other hand, some of you hate their quirky, try-hard lyrics, their predictable melodies, and their one-dimensionality; they remind you of an indie-pop Sparks, and what could be worse than that? Listening to their new album, Join Us, you're reminded of that time when that smug kid at school fell in love with 'Birdhouse In Your Soul' back in the early 1990s, and you're disappointed but unsurprised that the band don't seem to have changed much in the meantime.
Join Us, the band's fifteenth studio album, isn't going to change anybody's mind. For the past few years, the band have divided their time between releasing competent indie-pop albums and crafting collections of educational songs aimed at children. This release falls into the first category, although listening to it, it's easy to see why the band are good at making music for kids: they have the requisite love for nonsensical rhyming and sunny tunefulness. Many of the songs here are as likely to be enjoyed be toddlers as adults. 'Three Might Be Duende' sees the band's members, John Flansburgh and John Linnell, trading ridiculous verses in silly voices; 'Dog Walker' has a helium-affected vocal; the slick opener 'Can't Keep Johnny Down' sounds like the theme song to an old children's television show. Your kids or younger siblings will love them. Whether you share their enthusiasm will depend entirely on which camp you fall into regarding the band; Join Us doesn't see them radically change direction, and quality-wise it's no better and little worse than their other recent grown-up records.
If you've managed not to encounter the group before, here's an acid test. Consider the following lyric, set to bright guitar pop: 'Although there are millions of/Cephalophores that wander through this world/You've got something extra going on'. Are you impressed that a lowly rock band have managed to throw a reference to a headless, martyred saint into one of their songs? If that seems cutely subversive to you, then you're in luck: Join Us features a flurry of literary and mythological references. In the span of a single song, the group reference Faust, Orpheus and a 'monochrome martinet'. If, on the other hand, the phrase 'pseudo-intellectual' entered your head several seconds ago, you should probably pass on this band. Join Us is a solid They Might Be Giants, but it's very much a They Might Be Giants album, full of the quirks that make the band so divisive.