Ten Albums: They Might Be Giants, Flood (1990)

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Continuing the Ten Albums list as inspired by Facebook posts….

#8. They Might Be Giants, Flood (1990)

I first stumbled on They Might Be Giants in my first year in college radio.  In the spring of 1988 I was hanging out at the radio station late one night – as we often did – and someone switched on MTV’s 120 Minutes. (In hindsight, I should have watched that program a lot more than I did.) On the screen there were two guys singing a catchy little song while singing “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful” while waving around giant heads…

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…and I thought “I’ve got to find this record.” That video was for the song “Don’t Let’s Start,” which became a staple on my morning show that fall. This led me to the LP Lincoln, which contained more fantastic songs like “Purple Toupee” and – most famously – “Ana Ng.” The latter song contains one of my favorite lyrics in rock: “I don’t want the world; I just want your half.” (It’s also a fantastic video, and I may have pounded my fists on the desk in the office of WLRA like that on more than one occasion.) By this point the band garnered a strong college radio and underground following, and as I moved on from college radio to the pros in late 1989 I forgot about them.

That is, until early 1990, when I found myself between jobs and kicking around the studios of college station WIUS in Macomb, IL. I saw a copy of Flood in the radio station, thought “Hey! I remember these guys!,” dropped the needle, and was floored. Picture a chorus singing this:

“Why is the world in love again?/Why are we marching hand-in-hand?/Why are the ocean levels rising up?/It’s a brand new record… for 1990… They Might Be Giants’ brand new album Flood!”

From that it immediately tore into “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” and I was hooked. I lost track of how many times I played that tune that semester. “If the Walrus was Paul,” I once said on-air, “then I want to be the blue canary in the outlet by the light switch.” (“Who watches over you!” you exclaimed.)

The album is a collection of short pieces of brilliance. Some are simply fun little ditties, like “Particle Man.” (Hint: always bet on Triangle Man.) I’d say the same for “Lucky Ball and Chain,” which was likely sung at bars by any man who had just broken up with a short woman.

But there were also songs  that took on a bit of social significance. Without muddying the issue, “Minimum Wage” got its point across with just the two words in the title and a whip-crack. Perhaps the most poignant track on the LP – and one that still works just fine, thank you, 28 years later – is “Your Racist Friend.” Rather than explain it, let’s just go to the lyrics:

This is where the party ends
I can’t stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend

 

Consider that this was written well before the advent of social media or even chat rooms. We were still a year or two off from commonly-accessible BBS systems like CompuServe or Prodigy, where flame wars would take days to play out. No, you’d more often find a boorish racist in an actual conversation going on in front of you. Of course, you wouldn’t find them as often as you do today; it’s not that they weren’t there, but the cover of anonymity (or at least protection) that social media provides has emboldened already horrible people to say even more horrible things without any sort of fear of reprisal. We tend to spout off more readily if we know that we’ll never have to meet someone at the proverbial bike rack to defend our comments. I’d be really curious to see what a 2018 re-boot of this song would look like.

Unfortunately from a chart standpoint, none of the songs off of Flood made it into the Top 100. The band fared much better on the Modern Rock charts, where “Birdhouse” made it to #3 and “Twisting” peaked at #22. To fans of the band, it didn’t matter – we had our classic.

See if the party’s still going.  You can hear “Your Racist Friend” by clicking here.

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