Archive for TMBG Month

Join Us by They Might Be Giants

When first listening to Join Us, it was clear to me that this album is a step backward for They Might Be Giants. Their last album, The Else, wasn’t bad but it wasn’t their best, so this step backward did not have to be a bad thing. It could just be that they are rediscovering their roots. But did they do that, or did they just try to produce an album that was an imitation of their older stuff?

I was torn on this question. Tracks like “Old Pine Box”, and “Can’t Keep Johnny Down”, are great, catchy songs. Songs like “The Lady and the Tiger” and “Canajoharie” contain wonderfully written lyrics that just beg to be dissected. Then there are songs like “Dog Walker” and” Spoiler Alert” that just fall flat.

(The song in this video starts at 3:40)

Most the album kind of falls flat, really. While I feel the content and spirit of the album is something from the days of Flood or Lincoln, the album’s power and energy falters. It’s kind of bizarre that I’m taking this stance because the last album they released, The Else, had a sound that seems overdriven and pushed into territory that didn’t flatter their song writing style. On Join Us, it’s almost the opposite. I feel like they’re holding back a bit.

This might be because of their time spent writing children’s music, but song styles that rocked in the past that included stuff like “I Palindrome I”, “Damn Good Times”, and “Twisting” are just not present. Every TMBG album has some songs that really peak the momentum. Listening to Join Us brings you close to that point, but only brings you close enough to realize that it’s missing. I feel like a lot of songs could have been turned up a notch, and I have a feeling they are played that way live, but on the albums, they fall flat.

Join Us contains some really awesome songs, and some really bizarre songs. If anything, this album does hold on to those conventions. I enjoyed listening to it more the second time because I focused more on what they were doing and not what I wanted to hear. The first half of the album seems to be more straight forward, catchy songs. The second half is a bit more creative and reminds me a lot of their first two albums. Songs like “2082” and “Protagonist” are just as perplexing as “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go” and “32 Footsteps”. I didn’t get “Protagonist” at all until I read the lyrics a long with it. There are two sets of vocals in this song, basically reading a script, one being the lines and the other being the stage direction. Very cool.

So, while this album does fall flat, and seems kind of like a “lite” TMBG album, it is still fun to listen to and still something that I’m sure will make its way into my CD player again and again. For the fans, check it out. For those of you who are looking to try out the band, stick with Flood, Mink Car, Lincoln, or Apollo 18.

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The Spine by They Might Be Giants

The Spine is one of my favorite albums by They Might Be Giants. Although No! was a wonderful album, The Spine was a welcome change and reassurance of the band’s abilities. It contains quite a few rockers and some really evolved and adult sounds.

An interesting track on the album is “Thunderbird” because of its connection to a song from Long Tall Weekend, “On Earth My Nina.” I’ll talk about that connection a little more in another article, but this “Thunderbird” is a really fun track that was written by the band years before the release of The Spine.

Some other high velocity tracks include “It’s Kicking In” and “Damn Good Times.” These two songs are two of my favorite from the band’s entire catalog, and are two of the most amazing songs to see the band perform live because of the sheer energy involved. These songs really helped reassure me as a fan that TMBG was not becoming strictly a children’s band. They would continue to write fantastic music geared toward its adult fans as well.

Really, the band says a lot with The Spine. TMBG shows us that they can still write adult music, that they can still be as catchy and witty as always, while still remaining smart and progressive. Songs like “Au Contraire” and “Excremental Film” are fun listens with strong and fascinating lyrics, while “Prevenge” and “I Can’t Hide From My Mind” carry the tradition of smart and witty subject matter wrapped in carefully written and crafted music.

I really suggest this album for a first CD. It’s just weird enough to get you ready for early stuff by the band, but it also features a more contemporary style that might make it more accessible for new fans. You can find The Spine on amazon.com used for about $3. I suggest you do.

No! by They Might Be Giants

When I first heard that TMBG was going to be releasing a children’s album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The second or third time I saw them live was right before No! was released, and they announced that they would be performing some of the songs off the album. I was a little pissed about it, thinking I was about to see the TMBG version of the Wiggles. I got something totally different.

The album is such a mix of children’s themes and the signature style of TMBG that it is easy for the average fan of the band to enjoy and for their kids to enjoy as well. Songs like “No!” and “Bed, Bed, Bed” are totally geared toward children lyrically, but the music is still catchy and well written.

Listening to No! pretty much still feels like listening to a standard TMBG album. The music is interesting and fun, and the lyrics are smart and witty. There are only a couple of songs that seem a little too childish to look beyond and accept as a song for adults AND children. The songs “Violin” and “In the Middle, In the Middle, In the Middle” are not subtle in their intentions to simply be silly or to teach children to cross the street at the crosswalk. This would be fine if the music was more accessable to a larger audience.

A couple of songs, “I Am Not Your Broom” and “The Edison Museum” were actually written a long time before the album was released, and “The Edison Museum” was actually released on Long Tall Weekend years before. Also, the song “Robot Parade” was written earlier in the band’s career as well, only it had more adult lyrics:

Also, No! features the song “Where Do They Make Balloons?” which is sung by Danny Weinkauf. It is simply amazing. I love the fun lyrics and the song is the best example of fine music that adults can enjoy with lyrics that play with a child’s imagination:

Unlike later children’s albums that the band would create, this album truly can be enjoyed by the whole family. You can get No! on amazon.com for $2! Do it!

Little Known A+ Albums #3: Mink Car by They Might Be Giants

The CD cover colds out into a poster that looks like directions on putting together a model of a guy and a car.

(You are reading a music review which was reposted for TMBG Month [June 2011])

Anyone who knows as much about me as they say they do wouldn’t expect to see a list of A+ albums without a They Might Be Giants appearance.  While they are my favorite band, I’m trying to be fair here, and I’m putting them at #3.  I’ll admit, the next two albums are better than this one, although I still prefer their catalog as a whole to nearly any other band’s.

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Anyway, Mink Car came out when I was in high school and I didn’t like it much at the time.  After listening to it again and again, I’ve come to accept it as one of their best.  They Might Be Giants have been around for nearly 25 years now, so they have gone through a lot of different sounds.  You can tell what songs are from the 80’s for example, and which are from the 90’s, but they always have a certain quality that separates them from other bands. This album was released in 2001 and was their first of the new millennium.  It was released just after their single “Boss of Me” (the theme song from “Malcolm in the Middle” which won the band their first Grammy), although the song does not appear on the album.
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The album is different from their other albums in that it is the first to really cover many different genres of music on its own.  If you look back over their previous albums, each had its own sound and identity.  Mink Car is an eclectic assortment of dance music, power pop, and TMBG’s trademark bizarre.
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One of the biggest reasons to respect this album is because it was recorded mostly on the road at different studios and with different producers.  Still, it stands out as one of their greatest efforts.
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The album starts out with “Bangs” which is one of my favorite songs by the band.  It’s about a guy who is with a girl because he loves her bangs.  And I quote, “And although I liked you anyway, check out your haircut./A proscenium to stage a face that needs no make-up.”  I tried to find the song on youtube, but this is the best I could do…

He does a pretty good job though.  Maybe he can play my wedding.  (Steph, you should probably get some bangs so this will make sense.)  More from him later.

Anyway, you might know one or two of the songs from various appearances they made in TV spots or on other stuff.  Like this ad for Chrysler.
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Ok, I couldn’t find it.  The song was called “Yeh, Yeh” but every time I searched it I kept getting videos for that band the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.  It’s a good song, though.  And it’s a cover…anyway, let me see what songs I can find…
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Ah ha!  Here’s a good one.  They used to play Conan a lot.  This song is called “Man, It’s So Loud in Here.”  How great is this song?  A dance song about not being able to talk in a club because it’s too loud.  Genius.  The chorus is great.  “Baby, check this out, I’ve got something to say./Man, it’s so loud in here./When they stop the drum machine and I can think again/I’ll remember what it was.”
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The song “Drink!” is great.  It’s a waltzy kind of drinking song.  Very fun live because they get the whole crowd involved.  On the album it ushers in the final seven tracks and a kind of lul in the tempo of the album.  This is the best video I could find of the song.  Enjoy:
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Alright, you know what?  Here are all the best videos I can find for the songs off the album.
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A+.  You can find the album for $7.50 on amazon.com, but I suggest buying it from their e-store at tmbg.com.  Stay tuned for more awesome albums you think you don’t need to know about or do not know about and you should know about.  Thanks.

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Interesting Fact: This album was released on September 11th, 2001.  Just like the KGB’s album reviewed on this list. (I didn’t do that on purpose)

Long Tall Weekend

Long Tall Weekend

(You are reading a review written in the month of June, 2011, which was dedicated to the band They Might Be Giants and the task of reviewing many of the bands most popular material.)

They Might Be Giants have the distinction of being the first band to release a full studio album online. This came after the fallout between the band and Elektra and may have been an attempt to move into a DIY situation for the band. Released on Emusic, the album Long Tall Weekend lead to TMBG becoming the most downloaded band ever on the internet. This continues today through their website, theymightbegiants.com, where you can download full length albums and concerts from all over the world.

 

The album as a whole is decent. Songs like Operators are Standing By and Luliby to Nightmares are great and well written, but the album as a whole feels like something that was either thrown together from moments throughout their career. Really, it doesn’t feel like a TMBG album as much as a collection like Miscellaneous T. In fact, a lot of these songs were rejected from the Factory Showroom album.

Couple that with the fact that 8 of the 15 songs were released either later or before the album, either as the exact same recording or rerecorded versions of the same song, and you might understand why going back and listening to Long Tall Weekend feels like less than what it should. “(She Think’s) She’s Edith Head” and “Older” later appear on Mink Car in rerecorded versions (I prefer the later version), and “Token Back To Brooklyn” appeared on Factory Showroom as a hidden track. Its release here may be because the song was unacceptable on some CD players. Also, the exact same recording of “Edison Museum” was later released on their children’s album No!.  

Even the song, “Maybe I Know” is a cover that they used to perform as early as their Self Titled and Lincoln era.

The other songs, such as “Rat Patrol” and “Certain People I Could Name” would be released on a compilation titled They Got Lost, named after another song taken from Long Tall Weekend. They Got Lost is a bit easier to find, at least on CD. You can still get Long Tall Weekend off of Emusic for about $5 (50 cents a song), but finding the few hard copies that were sold (mostly at shows in 1999) is a bit more difficult.

The album met pretty strong reviews and on Emusic where it was mostly downloaded it received 4 out of 5 stars. This was released right around the time I became a fan and I had no idea what was going on. These songs are mostly considered rarities to me.  Also, the album seems to have little continuity which is something that could be expected following the solid and polished Factory Showroom album.

 

On this album is “On Earth My Nina,” which is a song (“Thunderbird”) sung backward by John Linnell. I will be covering this in its own article because it’s a pretty awesome idea with pretty amazing results.

All in all, this is one of the most obscure albums the band has released due to it containing song that were mostly either rereleased later or released prior to the album. I don’t know how fondly the band looks at this album, but to me it is hardly a major release by the band. Still, it deserves some credit, as it contains some very impressive music.

You cannot find Long Tall Weekend used or new on amazon.com. You can find it at emusic.com for about $5. If I were you, I’d just buy They Got Lost used on amazon.com for $5, then buy the following tracks for 50 cents off of emusic:

  1. “Drinkin'”
  2. “Maybe I Know”
  3. Operators are Standing By”
  4. “Dark And Metric”
  5. “Counterfeit Faker”
  6. “They Got Lost”
  7. “On Earth My Nina” 

Severe Tire Damage

(Since I couldn’t find ANY tracks, other than Dr. Worm, from this album on youtube, the live videos featured here are the closest things I could find to the album)

When I bought Severe Tire Damage, I didn’t know I was buying a live CD. It was the second CD I bought by the band, and I noticed it contained a lot of hits, so I went for it. The first track, “Dr. Worm” is a studio track:

The next track, “Sever Tire Damage Theme” is also a studio track. But the rest of the album is live, taken from a number of different shows following the release of their album Factory Showroom. One of the tracks was actually recorded in a hotel room. The song is called “Meet James Ensor” and was originally on the album John Henry. This live version features an acapella solo, which is a lot of fun to listen to.

There are two tracks on this album that were unreleased prior to this album. The song “First Kiss” was slowed down greatly and became “Another First Kiss.” Also, the song “They Got Lost” would be released on their next album, Long Tall Weekend, it would also be slowed down and retooled a bit. I honestly like the live versions better.

They Might Be Giants are an amazing live band and I’m really happy I picked this up by accident when I did. It let me hear that this oddball band actually puts on a great show. After seeing the band live about 10 times now, I can say that Severe Tire Damage really does showcase the energy and entertainment of a TMBG show. Though it came out before a bunch of my favorite songs were written, and though it omits a lot of great hits from They Might Be Giants and Lincoln, it does give us some fantastic versions of “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul” as well as “Till My Head Falls Off” (my favorite track on the album):

The album also features for the first time on a full CD the song “Why Does the Sunshine? (The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas).” The song, which was originally a PSA, is a cover that was released as an EP. The single contains the studio version, which is much different. The live version is fantastic, but the song would be released on their children’s album Here Comes Science! In 2009.

The last seven tracks were all written as a kind of homage to the Planet of the Apes movies. They’re pretty interesting, and kind of weird, especially since they’re not listed on the album at all. All the songs were apparently improvised, which is pretty impressive. Here’s one:

You can find Sever Tire Damage on amazon.com used for $1.25.

Factory Showroom

Factory Showroom

When I was counting down my list of “10 A+ Albums You Don’t Know About” I almost went with Factory Showroom instead of Mink Car. Factory Showroom was the last released by TMBG under the Elektra label. The band had been facing a lot of issues with the label leading up to the release of of the album and after a demo tape of album (along with a bunch of tracks which were rejected from the Showroom sessions) was accidentally released by Elektra weeks before the album appeared in stores, and after the band felt that the label didn’t do a very good job of marketing their album to the public, the two split.

John Flansburgh is on the record saying that this is his favorite effort by the band. It contains 14 tracks and is only about 45 minutes in length, making it the shortest of their albums for years to come. It contains a song, “Token Back to Brooklyn”, which can only be accessed by rewinding the first track on the CD. It shows up on your CD player as negative time as you rewind. This doesn’t work on some CD players, and if it hadn’t been for the online community of TMBG fans, I would have never heard it.

The music on this album feels like the band was trying go back to its more eclectic sound. Apollo 18 and John Henry were much more guitar driven and didn’t display a wide array of inspiration from different genres as other albums had. Previous albums had songs which reminded the listener of Caribbean sounds, southern twang, blues, and a variety of other genres. This took a backseat for a while as the band grew, but Factory Showroom brings back that aspect of their songwriting.  “Your Own Worst Enemy” really sounds like something I would expect to hear on Lincoln.  It reminds me a lot like old songs such as “Hide Away Folk Family” and “When it Rains it Snows”:

That is to say they didn’t abandon the rockers. Flansburgh really took advantage of having a second guitarist on staff for the first time with the song “XTC vs Adam Ant”:

Factory Showroom is a showcase of a bunch of very well written songs. When looking at album out of context, it could be the bands best work. They had only written one album before this with a full band, and for them to achieve such well written and complex songs as “Spiraling Shape” and “Pet Name” is a fantastic accomplishment.

An interesting track is “I Can Hear You” which was recorded at the Edison Laboratory on a wax cylinder and performed entirely acoustic. The lyrics are pretty funny when you consider the way they recorded the song, since they all have to do with speakers and phones, and people not being able to understand messages over them. Check it out:

This was the only wax-cylinder recorded track ever released on a major studio album. Here’s a quote taken from the band which I took from TMBW.net

This track was recorded at the Edison Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey on an Edison wax cylinder recorder. We performed this and other songs in front of a small audience, singing and playing acoustic instruments as loud as we could into a pair of enormous metal cones, the larger of which was perhaps twelve feet long, which fed the sound into a hundred year old non-electrical recording device created by Thomas Edison in the 1890s. The wax cylinder recorder carves a groove into a rotating tube of softened wax with a needle that is vibrating from the sound pressure collected at the small end of the cone. That is the best we can explain it. It looked very cool.

The album didn’t do well on the charts and it didn’t spawn any music videos or chart topping singles, but it is a fantastic collection of songs. I feel that by limiting the tracks on the album, and picking and choosing what songs deserved to be on the album, we’re treated to something new on a TMBG album. It has a certain flow and continuity that I really appreciate.  Although it leave you wanting more, most great albums do.

You can get Factory Showroom online for fifty cents! Do it!!!

 

John Henry

John Henry

When I got to meet the John’s at a book signing in 2005 or 2006, I can’t remember, I brought John Henry for them to sign. John Linnell told me it had been a long time since he signed it, and then they took a picture with me. The picture came out like it was taken at the center of the Earth. If you’re not sure what that looks like, it’s dark and hot.

 

This album, for a very long time, was my favorite by TMBG. It is also an album shrouded in controversy as this is the first album which featured a full band accompanying the John’s. When the album was released, it was a large issue with some fans, who would boycott and protest the band in other ways. By the time I got my hands on it, the controversy had dwindled away, and the fact this album wasn’t entirely credited to the John’s was a footnote to the music they created.

 

The fact is, by the time John Henry came about, TMBG had gone through many musical transformations. While these were small, they can definitely be heard. Just listen to the songs I posted in my review of their self-titled album and listen to some of the tracks from Apollo 18. It’s obvious that the band changed to suit their expectations, to respond to fan reactions to their music, and to suit their own ability as musicians. And looking at things today, I think John Henry is similar to Apollo 18 in many ways, and in other ways only builds on what the band has established in the past. I will say that their live performances greatly changed as you can see by the video below (a little after 2 minutes in):

 

The album charted higher than any other before or since by the band (#61) and the album boasts 20 songs, making it the longest album the band has ever produced. The music on John Henry continues to be a bit louder than what we saw on Flood and prior. The songs at times take it to a new level. Songs like “Stomp Box” sound nothing like anything we have heard from TMBG prior:

 

Still, “Snail Shell” shows us that the band did not lose their touch with bizarre and interesting lyrics. The song is about a snail thanking someone for putting it back in its shell, for example:

 

There was more controversy with the album due to a song the band called “NyQuil Driver” and ended up having to call “AKA Driver” and omitting the lyrics from the liner notes. This song is featured in the earlier video in this article.

Aside from this, the album contains songs that celebrate James Ensor, the painter from the 1800’s, and also borrows lines from the poem “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. Also, the album explores topics of death, and love, and obsession in tracks like “Sleeping in the Flowers” and “The End of the Tour” and also has a few songs that seem to be influenced by the ideas of brainwashing and subliminal messages. This is seen in songs like the obvious “Subliminal” and like “Dirt Bike” (start this vid around 1:30 if you want to see the music happen):

 

One of my favorite songs on this album is “Destination Moon” and I’m not sure why. I guess because it’s awesome? Yes. I guess that is it:

They Might Be Giant’s did a great job with John Henry. The sound of the band was fresh for at the time and it really was a leap in a direction that I could hear in Apollo 18 and Flood. You can get John Henry for only 31 cents, used on amazon.com. I would recommend you do it. This is a great album to introduce you to the music of TMBG.

Apollo 18

Apollo 18

Apollo 18

(You are reading a review written in the month of June, 2011, which was dedicated to the band They Might Be Giants and the task of reviewing many of the bands most popular material.)

New Years Eve, around 1996, I was watching TV and this guy was talking about what bands he hoped would burst into the limelight in the coming year. He mentioned a few names, and one of those was They Might Be Giants. The seed was planted and in the year 2000, I would buy my first They Might Be Giants CD. I came across Apollo 18 at the local record store, and I couldn’t say no to one of the best album covers ever.

 

Apollo 18 is what started my love affair with TMBG and to this day is one of my all time favorite albums. It has ties to NASA and space exploration and themes thereof, and a song called “Fingertips”(tracks 17 through 37) which is a bunch of very short songs that TMBG put together to make the shuffle function of your CD player a little more entertaining. This “song” is super entertaining to watch them perform live (see below). Also included on the album are more than a handful of songs that were in a lot of ways much better than most the tracks on Flood, still the album couldn’t sustain the popularity the band has garnered with their previous album.

Apollo 18 peaked at number 99, ten lower than Lincoln and lower than any other major album of the 90’s. This could be for a number of reasons. The band received a lot of criticism from long-time fans with the tour surrounding this album, as they adopted a backing band for the tour. These fans staged boycotts and protested shows. Also, this was the first conscious attempt of the band to embrace a new style of music. While the music was still very driven by the same themes, the band lost its very 80’s sound, and it wasn’t as campy as Flood. Most of the songs are louder, more complex, and seem more grown up in this way.

 

Songs like “Minimum Wage” and “Particle Man” are all but gone on this album. The closest thing to these types of songs is “Which Describes How You’re Feeling” which was actually written in the late 80’s, and “Spider” :

Other songs on the album are more conventional in their sound, while still achieving the zany and complex lyrics as before. Songs like “I Palindrome I” and “Mammal” are perfect examples. These songs could have been played on the radio when the album was released and would have fit in until you listened to the lyrics.

The song “Narrow Your Eyes” is a favorite:

And the singles from this album, “The Statue Got Me High” and “The Guitar” are a lot of fun:

But the more I listen to the album, the more one track stands out. “See the Constillation” is an amazing song with fantastic lyrics. The band blends a lot of different themes and ideas here, as well as creates a musical arrangement that combines a lot of their previous sounds:

I would write about all their songs, but you wouldn’t want to read all that. “If I Wasn’t Shy” and “Dinner Bell” deserve their own paragraphs. As does “My Evil Twin” and “Dig My Grave.” I simply don’t have the time, and neither do you.

If you’re looking to buy an album to start off with, this is highly recommended since its near the middle of their career and showcases their more recent sound with some remnants of their 80’s style. You can find Apollo 18 at amazon.com used for about $2. Go get it.

Flood

Flood

(You are reading a review written in the month of June, 2011, which was dedicated to the band They Might Be Giants and the task of reviewing many of the bands most popular material.)

 

They Might Be Giant’s third album may be their best known. Flood was their first album with their first major label, Elektra, and was released in 1990. It would be the band’s best selling album, eventually going Platinum. The single “Birdhouse in Your Soul” reached number 3 on modern rock tracks and their other singles “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man” would become popular staples of the band’s catalog, and were also set to animation by the Tiny Toon Adventures cartoon.

At first I didn’t enjoy listening to Flood, but the more I listened to it the more I enjoyed it, and today I think it is one of the band’s better efforts. “Birdhouse” is one of the best songs the band has ever written, and the album contains a number of songs that could have been just as successful on the radio. Songs like “Minimum Wadge” and “Lucky Ball and Chain” continue a lot of the bands earlier themes, and songs like “Women and Men” and “Birdhouse” showcase the talents of the band in ways I don’t think the other albums had. In fact, a good way to look at Flood is to think of it as the polishing and formal presentation of the sound and style that the earlier albums helped define.

The album sounds much more professional and polished and this makes songs like “Dead” and “Women and Men” sound as beautiful as they deserve to sound, while making songs like “Particle Man” more accessible and strange all at the same time.

This is the first album where you see a number of musicians help in the recording of the album. A total of 9 people are credited on the album as having recorded something for the album, from violin to hand claps. This may seem like a minor detail, but later the band would be touring with a live band as well, which would cause a great uproar with fans of the band. While many people consider the addition of this touring and recording band is where the band went through great change, I feel Flood is where the real change begins. Before there may have been one or two people helping out, but the whole process was very low-fi and DIY, and you could tell the process of song writing and recording was entirely or mostly left up to the Johns. But with Flood, we’re dealing with a new producer, 9 other credited musicians, and a major record deal, and I think you can hear a much greater difference between this album and the last than in any other case in the band’s history.

The album is a precursor to new material that would be written by the Giants in the future. Songs written most recently, such as “Take Out the Trash” and “Memo to Human Resources” can be easily compared to songs like “Your Racist Friend” and “We Want a Rock” where as “Boat of Car” and “Rabid Child” really have no equals.

You can find Flood at amazon.com used for a little over a dollar. Worth every penny and more.

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