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July 14th, 2006

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06:43 pm - 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.
Current Mood: okayokay
Current Music: Steve Burns -- Dead

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2006 03:55 am (UTC)
Regardless of whether or not it's any good, do you think I could get a copy?
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2006 04:21 am (UTC)
Certainly not! I don't support the piracy of electronic media!
Date:July 15th, 2006 08:54 am (UTC)
what about if you give it to me as well. Actually I probably won't end up keeping it, b/c most of the version that I could hear don't sound that good (except for steve).
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)
No! Screw you! Buy your own copy!
[User Picture]
Date:July 15th, 2006 04:33 pm (UTC)
You should have seen Little Tin Frog, doing "She's An Angel" back in 1994 at the Fatty Mocha in Merced CA. They played it a bit slow, but it sounded cool to my jaded ears... almost more jazzy
[User Picture]
Date:July 16th, 2006 03:25 am (UTC)
It's a shame I've never heard that one. She's an Angel has always been one of my favorites, but I've never heard a cover that I really liked a lot (counting the one on this album, I've heard two). I think the accordion during the chorus is what does it for me, but I'd love to hear a jazzy rendition.
[User Picture]
Date:July 17th, 2006 08:31 am (UTC)
Gorramit! Now I'm forced from my happily firm stance on Blues Clues into a challenging moral dilemma. I could have lived happier without this information. Curse my eyes for reading, and curse your words for tempting them.
But seriously, if I could have an opportunity to borrow, strictly to listen and then give back without copying at all, really, I would be most humbly honored. I mean, hell if I'm gonna shell out the price after a reveiw like that, but maybe I can lend anothe opinion if I were edjucated. Ehem.
And interesting side note, I find it intriguing that TMBG is the only band in which my mental image of the lead singer based upon voice was accurate.
Date:July 21st, 2006 03:29 am (UTC)

the roar of a baby lion

Okay, this is Charles Douglas and i'm going to tell you the story of recording my version of She's an Angel, which is THE BEST track on there!!!! (except for Frank Black, Self, and The Wrens, OK Go, and Hotel Lights too). I did NOT phone it in...

I was released from a mental hospital (again) just a few weeks before i made that recording. i played every instrument on it--EVERYTHING! my version DESTROYS the lame keyboard They Might Giants original! you do not understand the GENIUS of CHARLES DOUGLAS!!!! That recording is a masterpiece that your ears are clearly not fit to here.

AND you are INSANE if you think The Hotel Lights version is lame. Their song is INCREDIBLE!!!! You might not think this is the real CHARLES DOUGLAS but it is, mon cherie. I AM CHARLES DOUGLAS AND I AM A GENIUS AND I AM INSANE!!!!!!

Now put that in your pipe and smoke it. For all these years I have churned out INCREDIBLE, AMAZING, BEAUTIFUL, music for people like you to insult and torture me and burn me at the stake, perhaps you would be happier if I stuck ten thousand NEEDLES in my chest and called myself Elliot Smith??!?!?!

My track is one of the best on there. That you praise Dr. Worm and insult The Wrens shows the depth of your ingratitude at my accomplishment!

Put me in the same wretched category that you would put Courtney Love, Darby Crash, the midget rapper from The Geto Boyz, and Vincent Gallo in: eccentric, malicious and COMPLETELY screwed-up!!!!! Those are my idols and my peers because I am THAT great.

In conclusion though please understand that in no way do I encourage anyone to ever buy or listen to my records.

Thank you!
Apparently nobody does They Might Be Giants like They Might Be Giants - Garmonbozia for the soul. — LiveJournal

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