Posts Tagged ‘Snail Shell’

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.

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