Much like a childhood goodie bag, They Might Be Giants supply all of the fun and frivolity of Tootsie Rolls, noisemakers, and useless plastic doo-dads. After 18 years, They still write solid, tight and definitively danceable tunes. Like the opening track of their latest album declares, They are “just like a pocket T-shirt/As casual as that while fully intentional.” The album, Mink Car, is loaded with songs that rival some of their best tunes (though lacking the hyperactive energy of their earliest work), particularly tracks like “Hovering Sombrero” and “My Man.” On the satisfying “Hopeless Bleak Despair,” singer John Linnell is more coherent than he’s ever been, serving the final line with a side of irony: “For years and years I wandered the earth/Until I died and went to hell/But my despair had ascended to heaven/That’s how I finally got rid of it.” The other half of the John duo, John Flansburgh—as if dressed in a sequined number while draped over a piano in a dingy Vegas lounge—gets extra-croony on songs like “Drink!” and “Another First Kiss.” With lyrics like “Drink, drink, this town is so great/Drink, drink, before it’s too late,” has Flansburgh, who has always been intoxicated with wordplay, suddenly sobered up?
The creation of Mink Car, however, involved several different production teams that helped birth a record that plays less like an album and more like a greatest-hits record where the artist throws in a few fresh tracks just to appease die-hard fans. The new tracks, like “Mr. Xcitement” and “Wicked Little Critta,” come from the Giants’s pairing with the Elegant Too. “Critta” steps away from the Giants’ more recent dependency on guitar rock, fusing drum n’ bass beats with Linnell’s accordion and classic Giants non-sequitur lyrics (“And he clips the puck from Havlicek/And Havlicek is used and abused/He’s a wicked little critta with a sissy bar/And he lays a patch on the tar”). The insane “I’ve Got a Fang” demonstrates that even when floating in a sea of hip electronic drum programming, the Johns are still the irrepressible kings of quirk-pop: “Glistening white triangular tooth/Open up a can of tomato juice.” “My Man,” a truly excellent collision of the standard Linnell melody-line and unadulterated jest, gives another hint of what Mink Car truly could have been—another Giants album where all the songs are new, exciting, and most importantly, belong together.