They Might Be Giants’ (TMBG) antic, eccentric music, which the New York-based duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell has been making for two decades, has long attracted grade-school-aged kids alongside the pair’s adult target audience. Its recent Grammy Award win for best song written for a motion picture, television, or other visual media — for “Boss of Me,” the theme to the hit TV series “Malcolm in the Middle” — further underlines its kid appeal.
Now, TMBG has taken the logical step of releasing its first album specifically tailored to kids: “No!,” which hits stores June 11 on Idlewild/Rounder Kids. The 17-track recording, produced by Flansburgh and Linnell, is an enhanced CD that enables users to manipulate the animated visuals accompanying each song.
Making an album for children “would have appealed to us from the very beginning,” Flansburgh says (who is not a parent himself, though Linnell has a 3-year-old son), “if we hadn’t been afraid that people would completely misconstrue where the band was heading. We have a really viable rock career — 100 shows a year in rock venues, and we play rock festivals; we’re a rock band.”
“I guess we just didn’t want people to think we were leaving rock,” he continues. “Having done side projects [such as Flansburgh’s band Mono Puff, or Linnell’s solo “State Songs” album], we knew that the first thing people ask in interviews is, ‘Are you breaking up the band?’ They think you’re changing careers [when pursuing a different path].”
But with seven adult rock albums out at this point, TMBG felt it was established enough that no mistaken conclusions would be drawn. Plus, Flansburgh points out, “we’ve done a lot of outside work in TV and film music [including contributing to the soundtrack of “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”], so people have acclimated to the idea that TMBG does a variety of things.” He notes that TMBG has also launched the children’s interactive Web site, giantkid.net, which provides previews of the music and interactive elements of “No!”
The selections on “No!” are lyrically fanciful and musically diverse, reflecting Flansburgh and Linnell’s wide-ranging fascination with the arcane (“The Edison Museum”), the surreal (“I Am Not Your Broom”), and the fantastic (“Four of Two”). There’s even a cover version of a ’60s public-service announcement urging kids to cross streets at their proper corners, called “In the Middle, In the Middle, In the Middle,” sung on the set by Flansburgh’s wife, Robin Goldwasser.
“As far as we know, it’s the only song whose publishing is controlled by the New York Department of Transportation,” Flansburgh says of “In the Middle.” He notes that album track “Clap Your Hands” “is a groove song, almost like a James Brown song, and it’s so simple-but perfect for kids. It gives them something to do, but chugs along in a very simple way.”
Flansburgh says the band’s adult fans have indicated that “No!” is something they’ll also want to pick up. “We’ve gotten a clear response from them that this is a project they’re very interested in. The songs aren’t watered-down, there are interesting arrangements and production; for our fans, it’s just a really nice slice of psychedelia.”
Excerpted from the May 25, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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