My platonic love for Johns Linnell and Flansburgh — the two headed, harmonizing, vocally-indistinct monster known collectively as They Might Be Giants — goes back to the mid-eighties, when I saw the video for “Don’t Let’s Start” on MTV and secretly liked it even though I couldn’t quite square that with all the Judas Priest and Iron Maiden I was listening to (I was in high school — cut me some slack, here). But at some point in the early nineties, after my taste in music had evolved a bit, I snatched up their entire catalog (about four records at the time, from what I recall) and never looked back.
They Might Be Giants doesn’t need me to pimp them — chances are you already have a fully-formed opinion about these guys, and nothing I’m going to write here is likely to make you love them any more or be annoyed by them any less. But apparently I haven’t been following their career as closely as I should be, because I just discovered their most recent children’s album, Here Comes Science.
In 2002 TMBG released their first children’s record, No! (I know what you’re thinking, here, too: First children’s record? So “Particle Man” is for… adults, then?). I picked up a copy and thought it had a couple of catchy tunes that fit fairly well into their ouvre. But for the most part it was recorded for very young children — apparently they even designed it so that the last few songs would put your child to sleep after a long day, and I will tell you that it worked on me a couple of times, too. The follow-ups, Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s, looked like more of the same, so I sat them out. They band has continued to produce non-toddler-specific albums as well, so I didn’t feel like I was missing too much.
But then the other night I was specifically looking for something to knock a depressing song out of my head (Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” — thanks, Batman Beyond fan video) so I typed TMBG into YouTube to see what would come up. And what came up was this:
Oh My God. To me, this is TMBG at its most pure — catchy, enthusiastic, and in celebration of something that they clearly love. It even has some not-so-subtle politics in it: I love angels and unicorns as much as the next guy, folks, but they don’t belong in the category of “things we teach in science class.” It looks like with the fourth album in the series the band started casting a net for slightly older children, and as a result reeled me right in with the rest of the catch. Thanks to the magic of Youtube I don’t need to describe the record much, though — here’s what’s probably my favorite song on it:
Here Comes Science also features a long-awaited album version of a TMBG fan favorite and staple of their live show, “Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas).” But this is what I love about They Might Be Giants, and also what I love about SCIENCE: it also includes a sequel, acknowledging that we’ve discovered a lot about space since the original (a cover of an educational ditty from 1959) was written. So now we learn that the sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma, along with the definition of “plasma” and the lyrics “forget that song, they got it wrong. That thesis has been rendered invalid.”
It’s perhaps the best lesson any kid could learn about science: that it represents all of our collected knowledge at this moment, and you can expect it to change as we continue to uncover new stuff. It’s not quite as peppy as some of the other tunes, though, so instead I’ll leave you with this, as sung by and dedicated to their friend Danny, who likes to pretend he’s a paleontologist:
Pachycephalosaurus? Yay for science. I’ll tell you what, this is the kind of record that makes me want to have kids.