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Standing Very Tall

They Might Be Giants
Chris Cuffano

Thinking Big: John Flansburgh (left) and John Linnell of
They Might Be Giants specialize in twisting musical genres.

They Might Be Giants give
dweebish songs a sonic boost

By Greg Cahill

'I'M BURNED OUT and grumpy," quips John Flansburgh, one half of the songwriting duo at the core of the quirky pop group They Might Be Giants; he's feeling the constant grind of the publicity machine. "I've just done eight interviews in a row, and--well--you're next!"

Yikes. So what didn't the last seven reporters ask? "Actually, they all did pretty good," he offers, "except for the born-again Jesus guy who somehow slipped through the filter of our media team. He just pretty much told me about Jesus, which is very, very, very tedious.

"Fuck Jesus!" he sniffs.

An uncompromising view, to be sure. And right in keeping with the equally uncompromising Factory Showroom (Elektra), the latest album from a band that blends a kaleidoscope of musical styles while singing about night lights and palindromes, Belgian painters and science lessons. A two-CD compilation of pre-Elektra material, Then: The Earlier Years (Restless), is slated for release later this month.

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They Might Be Giants's online.

Gina Arnold's review in Metro of TMBG's
Factory Showroom album.

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The band's songs are filled with dark, disturbing lyrics and a surreal, dadaist vision, all cloaked in bright, infectious pop hooks--the same traits that have made They Might Be Giants one of the hottest-selling alternative pop acts in the country.

The 1996 CD, finished last spring during a whirlwind week-long residency at the Mercury Lounge in New York, runs the gamut from the full strings and horn sections of the opening track--"S-E-X-X-Y"--to the ultraretro "I Can Hear You," recorded at the Edison Laboratory on a nonelectric 1898 wax-cylinder recorder.

Despite almost no air play and an MTV blackout, the group continues to thrive on the college radio charts, thanks to a significant presence on the World Wide Web and a fiercely loyal cadre of fans.

On Factory Showroom, singer-songwriter Flansburgh--a chubby, bookish guitarist who writes his songs on a PowerBook--and John Linnell, his accordion-playing partner, once again beefed up their usually lean arrangements and quite oddball instrumentation--tubas, accordion, electric ukulele--with muscular Stax-style horn parts and an impressive array of sidemen first heard on 1994's John Henry. That expanded lineup features bassist Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu, drummer Brian Doherty of the XTC, trumpeter Frank London of the Klezmatics and trumpeter Steven Bernstein of the Lounge Lizards.

"Adding the band was like strapping a booster rocket onto the They Might Be Giants space capsule--it hasn't changed our direction in space, but it has greatly increased our velocity," Flansburgh says. "It's extended our sonic impact--our power--but it hasn't really changed our approach to what we do. It's still musically challenging and very personal to John and me. There's no intention or desire to dilute that, but the musicians we're working with bring another dimension that's very real."


They Might Be Giants perform Thursday (March 13) at 9pm at the Edge, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto. Tickets are $12 adv. (415/324-EDGE)

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From the March 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro

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