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Visit This Showroom Soon
They Might Be Giants
Factory Showroom (Elektra)
by Tim Roberts
With their new release, They Might Be Giants has produced a mixture of '70s funk, New Wave, bubble-gum pop, a presidential history lesson, and one song that may make them the first band "behind" their times. Factory Showroom is the appropriately-titled follow-up to 1994's John Henry, which found TMBG relying more on real instruments and less on musical gadgets. Like manufacturers who take raw and recycled materials to make their products and display them in showrooms, this seventh effort from Johns Flansburgh and Linnell and the rest of their band displays their talents for fitting recycled styles to lyrics loaded with bizarre wit, irony, and non-sequiturs to show off some highly original music.
The 13-item Showroom opens with "S-E-X-X-Y," with its heavy-funk bass line combined with horns and sweeping strings to create a sound reminiscent of some forgotten disco group from the Casablanca label. But the next track, "Till My Head Falls Off," jolts you into the next decade with its driving New Wave rhythm that could easily coerce you into doing a neck-spraining, head-bobbing dance from that era—basically what the song refers to.
Among the other surprises are TMBG's rendition of the bouncy-but-tongue-in-cheek "New York City," originally performed by a Vancouver-based group called Cub, and the spare scat-song and cello "Exquisite Dead Guy." You'll also find a folky, straightforward tale of the eleventh President of the United States, "James K. Polk," featuring a solo from a singing saw, and the soulful, Squeeze-esque "Pet Name."
The most fascinating track, though, is "I Can Hear You," recorded at the Edison Laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey, directly, and without electricity, onto a wax cylinder phonograph from 1898. The recording is unmixed, live, complete with the scratches, muffled bass, and buzzing high frequencies common with the ancient recording devices. Other bands may use the most advanced technologies to improve their sounds, but for this one TMBG used one of the oldest, which may make them the only band "behind" their times.
Flansburgh and Linnell have crafted some musical weirdness since their 1986 debut recording. The emphasis is always on musical. The weirdness just follows.