They Might Be Giants’ Whimsy Feels Boundless on Flood
This review was originally published in the February 1990 issue of SPIN. We’re republishing it here in celebration of Flood’s 30th anniversary in January 2020.
After loading two indie-label albums with a lifetime’s worth of wit, John Flansburgh and John Linnell—Brooklyn’s own guitar-and-accordion-toting dada-pop duo—joined the majors, a test of whether rampant creativity and a delirious sense of fun could survive record-industry processing.
Not to worry: The post-literate pair’s third album is another captivating variety show of art-rock, swing, the Bonzo Dog Band, cow-pop, show tunes and the Schmenge Brothers. Flood is a deft pogo dance on the tightrope between delightful whimsy and insufferable self-amusement that will leave you humining, smiling, and mulling the future of modern civilization quicker than “Green Acres.”
Boundless imagination, loopy mix-and-match arrangements and a gyroscopic sense of what makes a pop tune click are still responsible for the easy and abiding appeal of TMBG’s ingenious material. Improved production facilities and, on four cuts, British hitmakers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (Madness, Dexys Midnight Runners) just make them sound better than ever.
In a typical avalanche of how’d-they-come-up-with-that ideas, TMBG open Flood’s gates with a tongue-in-cheek promotional jingle for the album. They put on a ritzy history lesson about Turkish geography called “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” describe the vindictive fallout of a failed relationship to the accompaniment of ’60s Farfisa beat in “Twistin’,” promote prosthetic foreheads (?!) in “We Want a Rock” and put an oomph superhero spin on science with “Particle Man.” The piano-and-vocal ballad “Dead” weighs the relative merits of life and reincarnation: “Now it’s over, I’m dead and I haven’t done anything that I want/Or I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do.” “Your Racist Friend,” a heavy slice of moral indignation, nonchalantly borrows its topic, ska beat, and title from a Specials song.
Throughout, the Giants reel off memorable (not a subjective issue: there is ample empirical proof) melodies, punctuated by assorted bursts of inspired madness, as if there were nothing to it. Like the bullethead in Physics 101 who aces every exam and screws up the grading curve for everyone else, TMBG should be in a class by themselves.