“Man, It’s So Loud in Here,” a tune from They Might Be Giants’ first studio album in five years, is the wittiest piece of pop bliss you’ll hear all year. Backed by an arrangement that boasts all the hallmarks of a generic hi-NRG hit (hyperactive sequencers, bludgeoning percussion, electronically treated backing vocals), keyboardist John Linnell plays the role of an oldster who doesn’t understand the mainstream electronica that is suddenly everywhere — hence the song’s title. Musically, it’s as naggingly catchy (and disposable) as anything on WDRQ, but like all of TMBG’s best work, the song is also effective as postmodern cultural commentary. In this case, it’s a stinging parody of relics such as Cher or Madonna, who attempt to revitalize their careers by co-opting the youth culture of the moment.
Not everything on Mink Car is as inspired as that song; “I’ve Got a Fang,” for example, details the misadventures of a man who does indeed have a fang, but the winners far outnumber the losers. Not many bands could pull off a song about Cartesean dualism, let alone make it as fizzy as “My Man” is. Moreover, not many bands could pull off forays into as many musical styles as TMBG does here: The album darts from the spy anthem, “Mr. Xcitement” (with nonsensical guest vocals by the infallible Mike Doughty), to the despondent pub rock of “Drink” to the scorching post-punk anthem “Cyclops Rock.” Though the band’s relentless whimsy might strike the uninitiated as annoying, those who are properly attuned to TMBG’s unique style know what to expect here: 40 minutes of music that exudes more creativity than most bands do in 40 years.
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