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They Might Be Giants - Glean (Review)

They Might Be Giants, Glean

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

A BETTER name for Glean, the latest album from They Might Be Giants, is ‘the good, the bad and the downright eccentric’.

But then fans have come to expect nothing less than diversity from this band, who vocally may retain something of a signature sound, but who seldom conform to the expected.

Glean is the follow-up to 2013’s fan-favourite Nanobots but it’s not quite as good.

That being said, it exhilarates in places. Opening track and lead single Erase is pure adrenaline rush indie-rock, fuelled by some gritty guitar riffs and a kick-ass chorus that exemplifies everything that’s great about listening to They Might Be Giants on form. It’s kooky but cool, lyrically adventurous and just a bucket-load of fun.

But in contrast, there’s the wacky, jazz-infused Let Me Tell You About My Operation, which is just plain out there. The jazz-piano element and sax blasts add a breezy element but the vocals are wildly eccentric, right down to the odd use of French words. It’s a million miles removed from the buzz of the opener and borderline irritating if you’re in the wrong mood.

And yet they manage to put another smile on your face almost instantly with the album closing instrumental Glean, a kooky charmer that hits all the right notes (and melodies).

Other highlights come from All The Lazy Boyfriends, which thrives on an irresistible central melody and another breezy chorus (that nods to the ’80s); the funky I Can Help The Next In Line; the snappy Answer (with its stop-start acoustic guitars), and the kooky-catchy Good To Be Alive, which emerges as celebratory as its title suggests.

The bad, though, comes in the form of tracks like Madam, I Challenge You To A Duel, which plays like a mini-opera of sorts that’s awash with piano, or the similarly eccentric End of the Rope. Hate The Villanelle, meanwhile, plays like some kind of camp Tarantino riposte… a subversive take on movie villainry that is almost pantomime-esque in its own right.

Still, at least they’re being adventurous. And when that adventure works, it can lead to something interesting, as on the manic, violin-driven Music Jail, Pt. 1 & 2, which has to be heard to be believed – a mad-cap Eastern European opera of sorts. It’ll doubtless polarise but there’s something addictive about it.

And therein lies much of They Might Be Giants’ on-going charm. They’re not afraid to wrong-foot and play around and while this leads, almost inevitably, to some misfires, there’s also enough talent here to make the successes deliver moments of out-and-out joy. Hence, a new album is always something to celebrate and look forward to.

Download picks: Erase, Good To Be Alive, Answer, All The Lazy Boyfriends, Glean

Track listing:

  1. Erase
  2. Good to Be Alive
  3. Underwater Woman
  4. Music Jail, Pt 1 & 2
  5. Answer
  6. I Can Help the Next in Line
  7. Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel
  8. End of the Rope
  9. All the Lazy Boyfriends
  10. Unpronounceable
  11. Hate the Villanelle
  12. I’m A Coward
  13. Aaa
  14. Let Me Tell You About My Operation
  15. Glean