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They Might Be Giants: The Else


When I was in college the first time, I enjoyed listening to They Might Be Giants on occasion. Of course, back then, there were fewer titles in their catalog. Flood was their most recent release, and despite the efforts of a close friend who nearly worshipped the two Johns, the shine hadn't been worn off "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" or "Particle Man" yet. Now, several years later, I'm sitting at my computer listening to The Else, their latest CD, and I'm looking up synonyms for "meh."

The problem for me is that while the calendar says it's 2007, this could have fallen through the wormhole from 1990. It's more of a rock release than their best-known work, but the signature pieces of TMBG lore—the distinctive nasal whine, the quirky lyrics, the short and complex song structure, different instrumentation than you usually get—are all there, and they don't sound much different than the songs from Lincoln or Flood. Why bother? Buy Dial-A-Song and be done with the whole thing.

What I really find annoying is that these guys are still talented and capable, so it's not a case of them running out of gas or having to fall back on what worked before. The work they've done for TV and in children's albums is sharp and well-respected. Why they chose this lackluster collection of songs as worthy of a full album is mystifying to me; only the Zappa-esque interludes on "With the Dark" sound interesting enough to commit to posterity. They Might Be Giants are worthy of respect for their long and idiosyncratic career, but you'd be hard-pressed to demonstrate that with The Else. "Whatever" would have been a more suitable title, but I can see where that might have been hard to market.