By Josiah Martin | Staff Writer
When a band has remained active for 35 years, it is almost unavoidable that their latter efforts would seem phoned in. Bands traditionally lose their edge over time. I Like Fun thankfully proves that this is not the case for They Might Be Giants.
I Like Fun is the 20th studio album by They Might Be Giants, a band that has grown from a borderline-experimental duo consisting of lead members John Flansburgh and John Linnell to a versatile and intimidatingly prolific five-piece rock group. The past decade alone has seen the release of eight studio albums, each of which seem to top the previous in terms of quality.
Despite this output and growth as a band, the group has remained true to what made them great, always delivering eclectic collections of songs that pair impressive but catchy melodies with fiercely quotable and often bleak lyrics. The lyricism of I Like Fun is, in fact, its strongest suit. The album is solid overall.
However, the band’s trademark eclecticism led to some questionable choices, and the album is plagued by unnecessary genre-hopping and whiplash-inducing mood shifts, especially in the second half.
The opening of the album is promising enough, with the first track “Let’s Get This Over With” delivering massive, danceable drums with Linnell’s classic stream-of-consciousness style lyrics. Musically, this is one of the most pleasant songs on the album. This fact paired with the comparatively sour title is classic They Might Be Giants.
Second track “I Left My Body” is uninteresting compared to the opener, but stands well enough on its own as a quality song. This is likely why it was released as a single ahead of the album. “All Time What,” the first song on the album led by Flansburgh, does a far better job of holding the listener’s attention, especially with beautiful vocal harmonies on the chorus. This song is a strong contender for the one most likely to be stuck in your head, and possibly the best on the album.
The gentler “By the Time You Get This” maintains the quality standard set by “All Time What,” with the garage rock track “Insult to the Fact Checkers” being comparatively forgettable. “Mrs. Bluebird,” which begins with an absolutely captivating piano intro by Linnell, is a dark and beautiful almost-tango composition. While a wonderful song, this song’s arrival is the first prominent example of the abrupt genre switches you’ll experience within the album.
The album’s title track takes a while to build to a gorgeous, ’30s jazz-inspired chorus which criminally does not make up much of the song’s composition, but nonetheless makes it a listenable and enjoyable track. The aggressive change to “Push Back the Hands’” techno bass and dance club drums is unwelcome and difficult to listen to. It is one of the album’s weaker songs.
Now fully entrenched in the second half of the album, the listener has the pleasure of hearing Flansburgh’s gentle, ’60s guitar pop-inspired “This Microphone” before being stuck with four much more boring songs, which somehow feel homogeneous despite trying too many new things: “The Bright Side” opens with guitars reminiscent of ’90s alt-rock group Dinosaur Jr., “When The Lights Come On” features an energetic snare-filled drum track, while “Lake Monster” and “McCafferty’s Bib” rely on distractingly electronic sounds that don’t add to their quality or fit much else on the album.
Luckily, this trend is reversed at last minute by penultimate track “The Greatest,” a soft track featuring little else than vintage horn sounds and slow, gentle whole notes on bass. Flansburgh’s high, almost whispered vocals suit the song perfectly. With one final monumental jump into a different style of music, “Last Wave” is in similar vein to the harder rockers of the first half of the album and serves as a really strong closer.
I Like Fun is far from perfect. Proficiently demonstrating wildly different types of music was always a strength for They Might Be Giants, but this album feels inconsistent, some tracks seeming unique for uniqueness’ sake. The concepts behind these songs don’t feel fully fleshed out and therefore don’t stand well outside of the context of the album either.
For the most part, though, They Might Be Giants gets it right. I would almost recommend reading the lyrics to this album on their own someday. They read like poetry written by someone just waking up from a dream. Flow-related problems aside, most of the songs stand on their own musically and keep the listener engaged as they shift around in mood and dynamics.
Over three decades and 20 albums into their career, They Might Be Giants aren’t done yet. As the title track so eloquently puts it, “My excellence at parkour might be unexpected at the age of 58.”