They Might Be Giants

First a disclaimer: I love the music of They Might Be Giants and have raised my two sons, Joshua and Matthew, to enjoy their quirky, intoxicating melodies (as well as other snobbish music-critic audibles). It was no surprise then that they took instantly to No!, the first They Might Be Giants album designed to be enjoyed by the entire nuclear family.

As you might expect, the usual colorfully cartoonish sound of TMBG (here represented by the Johns and their band of Dans) lends itself easily to a childrens' album. What makes this album different from their regular albums is that there aren’t any songs about death or depressing subjects (albeit wrapped in bouncy, happy tunes). The subject matter runs from bizarre to weird, which is exactly how Nickelodeon made its fortune. “Violin” sports a simple melody, sparse orchestral strings and lyrics like “Violin,” “Hippo,” “Mop,” “Speck of dust” and “3/4 of George Washington’s head.” The ultra-catchy “In The Middle” is sung by Robin Goldwasser and intones “Don’t cross the street in the middle, in the middle, in the middle of the block” while manic xylophones dance nimbly around your ears. A longtime favorite from a fan club EP is “The Edison Museum,” sung with gusto by Nicholas Hill.

Touted as the “most famous haunted mansion in New Jersey,” facts about Thomas Edison float above a spooky background of baritone sax and harpsichord.

But wait, there’s more! Although the 17 tracks run a disappointing 34 minutes, the CD includes special interactive sequences for most of the songs, playable on either a PC or Mac. In “The House At The Top Of The Tree,” which is about a mouse who eats your house unless he has potato chips which are delivered by a dog in a car, you get to feed the mouse potato chips to keep him from eating the house. Much less complicated is the funky “Clap Your Hands,” where you make three odd bird-creatures dance, stomp their feet, groove and generally git jiggy wit it. While none of these could be called games, each interactive sequence is quite interesting and lends yet another fun element to this already enjoyable CD.

Like the best products made for children, the contents of this disc appeal to both kids and adults with songs that speak to children without speaking down to them. The lyrics are definitely not plain (“Spaghetti is from China but Italians make it best”) and the music is equally inventive and varied to bear many repeat listens. Don’t tell Child Protective Services, but this album was a big hit at my house after a single listen. You can get a sample of the songs and interactive sequences at

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, June 2002.