They Might Be Giants Celebrate 25 Years of Freaky Impulses

Dominic Neitz
This isn't how things are supposed to work. "You're on Fire," the first track off Nanobots, the new They Might Be Giants album, is an urgent, antsy marvel, a disco-glittered pop stomper whose three killer hooks slide over, under, and through each other, all coiled up as tightly as snakes in a cave. The same year that their '90s alt-hitmaking contemporaries Smash Mouth and the Gin Blossoms are playing a nostalgia cruise, these guys—the bookish, cheerful Brooklynites who sang about night-lights and palindromes rather than about how being young is awesome—have unleashed a full-length that can stand up to comparison with their back-in-the-day best, two-plus decades before.

Their past two were strong, too, a late-career winning streak (dating to 2007's The Else) so rare in pop music that, seriously, it's hard to name five other acts who have managed it. Of course, to appreciate it, you have to appreciate They Might Be Giants, and even they admit They Might Not Be for Everyone.

"I've always been surprised that people can't see how completely pretentious we are as a band," John Flansburgh says over the phone from an undisclosed La Quinta. (Flansburgh is the bespectacled, guitar-playing showman of the duo; the other, quieter Giant is John Linnell, who plays keys, a flatulent sax, and increasingly infrequent accordion. Both write and sing.) "We started on the heels of the no-wave moment in New York, and we were playing in the same clubs DNA might have played a week earlier. Our early shows had a lot of scream-y, non-melodic things about them. The first couple of years, it was unclear where our strengths lie."

Still, there was promise from the beginning. "I can remember the first 10 minutes of our first show," says Flansburgh. "It's not that we were imitating Pere Ubu, but we felt an affinity for an art-school-informed rock music, and we were doing something we expected would be difficult or confusing for the audience to take in. What struck me was not that people were chuckling, but that some seemed genuinely delighted and to get it right away."

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