The twisted pop brilliance of TMBG (John Flansburgh and John Linnell) is fully illustrated on this new album by the funky jump beat on the very swell “You’re On Fire,” which instantly rises to the level of their best songs, busting out with its soulful “…combustible head” refrain. It also sets the irreverent tone for their 16th studio recording. The cheeky approach to writing pop songs has garnered the two Johns a great deal of respect over the years, and with good reason.
Despite the occasionally spotty recording career (from a pop perspective), they’ve always been smart and prolific. When Flansburgh was laid up at home after an accident in the 90s they started a Dial-a-Song service where they recorded new songs (demos, fake commercials) on an answering machine and listed the phone number in the Village Voice and other places. Needless to say, it was a rousing success. Just like everything else they do. There are 25 total “tracks” here, with eight of them being very brief snippets, and while it’s a little exhausting to sit through it all at once, partly because there is so much going on from song to song, it is consistently strong and hard to hold a grudge against when it’s done.
“Too Tall Girl” is Yo La Tengo- ish new wavey power pop, and the quirky self-referential “Nanobots” is exceptional oddball pop. “The Darling of Lumberland” is like the (t)hornier side of Beck. (That just came to me in a flash.) And “Call You Mom” is silly and juvenile, but considering the source, it falls right in the center of their oeuvre quite comfortably. To maintain this kind of staying power after 30 years and continue to release quality recordings is laudable, but to be able to continue to seduce the mainstream, and even thrive in this fickle market is, frankly, remarkable. TMBG’s music has transcended numerous boundaries as they’ve found success in both children’s music and TV and film theme music. Of course, everyone knows “Boss Of Me,” the theme song for Malcolm In The Middle, but how many people know that all three of their children’s albums (Here Come The ABCs, Here Come The 123s and Here Comes Science) have gone gold? Now you know.