Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

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Apparently nobody does They Might Be Giants like They Might Be Giants

Last night I dragged koriandrkitten and bluntobject to The Exclusive Company so that I could buy Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants. You can guess what I've been listening to at work all day.

It's a tribute album, and sadly, I don't think it's very good. I mean, I'm trying hard to like it. I know most of the bands on it (I even like some of 'em), but the whole album is exemplary of a currently fashionable style of underproduction that I really, really hate. Does anybody else know what I'm talking about? There's a style that's very popular right now which sounds to me as if the recording is being made directly from the mixing board at a live show. Maybe it sounds spontanous, and maybe leaving mistakes and shaky vocals adds a "human" element, but to me it sounds lazy and flat. It's not that I'm in love with top-notch production when I should be in love with the music, I just don't think they should be divorced from each other.

Anyway, the whole CD is like that. It sounds like a bunch of reasonably good bands recorded a bunch of covers without the aid of outside production talent. Most of it sounds relatively lifeless, which is unfortunate, given TMBG's reputation as the thinking man's party band. There are a few standout tracks, however:
Ana Ng (performed by Self) -- Self is a (mostly) one-man act to which I was introduced by my ex-girlfriend Ellen. I'm still figuring out whether or not I like him, but his cover of Ana Ng is fantastic. The original song (video) is one of TMBG's best-loved early tunes, and Self's version is one of those covers that completely reimagines the source material. It's also one of only a couple of songs on the album that circumvents the problems described above by being almost overproduced. It's appropriate here, though. It works.

Pet Name (performed by The Long Winters) -- Pet Name blazed unusual trail for TMBG in that it's almost a love song, and it's pretty standard Memphis-style jazz (which I wish was more popular). This version trades the piano, organ, and smooth bass line for a much more standard rock arrangement that sounds like something that would have been on the radio during the late '90s. The singer sounds like Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies. Weird to hear the song this way because I'm so fond of the jazzy version.

Road Movie to Berlin (performed by Frank Black) -- What can I say? I like Frank Black, and I like this song. I especially like that he's reinserted the extra verse which appears in the liner notes to the TMBG album, but isn't actually in the song.

Doctor Worm (performed by Jason Trachtenberg) -- This is a very minimalist arrangement, performed by one vocalist on an accoustic guitar. This was probably the cheapest song to record on the whole album, but it doesn't sound lazy or careless.

Dead (performed by Steve Burns) -- Yes, it's the Steve Burns who used to host Blue's Clues. Who knew he's turn out to be a competent electronic musician? This is another one like Self's Ana Ng, where the lyrics and basic melody are the same, but it's a really interesting reinvention of the song.
There are a few really lousy tracks as well: They'll Need a Crane (video) is an upbeat, bouncy song about a painful and messy breakup. The charm of the song is in this dichotomy, and The Wrens' melancholy rendition completely ruins it. Charles Douglas and The Hotel Lights sound like they're phoning in their performances of She's an Angel and The End of the Tour, respectively. I think this has less to do with talent and musicianship, and much more to do with lifeless production.

There's also a lot of material that's not actually bad, but... who cares? This Radiant Boy's version of Don't Let's Start (another video!) is pretty lackluster. Fluid Ounces' version of It's Not My Birthday sounds like a bunch of good musicans trying hard to sound like the original recording during a live concert. Same with Brett Kull's Another First Kiss; why listen to TMBG being unusually straightforward and radio friendly when you can listen to Some Guy Named Brett trying to duplicate their recording? For that matter, whose idea was it to pick a bunch of songs that only diehard fans like? It's not like the world needs another version of Birdhouse In Your Soul, but people like me were going to buy this album anyway. Why not appeal to a wider audience?

At any rate, whether you're interested or not in buying it, you might enjoy some of the music. The album has a MySpace page where you can listen to streaming versions of Dead, Ana Ng, David Miller's Narrow Your Eyes, and The Wrens' abysmal version of They'll Need a Crane. Additionally, there's a video for Steve Burns' Dead.
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