They Might Be Giants, ‘Nanobots’ – Album Review
It’s an unfortunate reality that lazy music critics sometimes dismiss They Might Be Giants records as simply “quirky” affairs. It’s an unfair, too-easy assessment of a band that’s been prolifically putting out quality music for as long as “the Johns” — founders Linnell and Flansburgh — have.
But TMBG’s latest, ‘Nanobots,’ their 16th album and 12th for adults (the group has put out four popular children’s albums — good for the kiddos, perhaps, but longtime fans are always happy to see them back in the adult arena), may be the one that finally leads naysayer critics to take a breather. ‘Nanobots’ shows a musical maturation that goes a long way toward dispelling the pesky “quirky” tag, and while it’s a full 25 tracks long, there’s no bloat. It’s a lean record that clocks in at 45 minutes, and the group is in fine form throughout. It’s nice to have them back on adult turf.
“Your head’s on fire,” Linnell dryly intones on opener ‘You’re on Fire,’ a fun gem with a soulful chorus of “combustible head!” The musical references here and throughout the album are reminiscent of satirist and composer Frank Zappa, not novelty bands. TMBG their music history, and it shows.
‘Nanobots’ mostly comprises regular full-length songs, but the middle of the album features a series of the band’s patented mini-songs, a throwback to ‘Fingertips’ on 1992’s ‘Apollo 18′ (21 short tracks that were intended for fans to listen to on shuffle mode when CDs were the common release format). Of course, no TMBG record would be complete without an homage to an historical figure, and ‘Nanobots’ is no exception. Here, we get a tribute to Nikola Tesla (called, as you might have guessed, ‘Tesla’).
TMBG’s usual dry delivery makes ‘Nanobots’ one of the most enjoyable albums in their catalog. They tend not to take themselves too seriously, and that may be why some critics see them as lightweight. But that’s their loss. Underneath the winks and nods, the musicianship is always more than solid. The production, too, is immaculate here.
Diehard fans will be more than content with this album, and listeners who are new to the band and looking for an introduction that goes down easy are likely to find ‘Nanobots’ more than palatable.