Funny and fresh, ebullient and eccentric, bubbly and bursting with ideas (though perhaps too restless to dwell on them for very long), Flansy's personality is all over this disc. The bespectacled, guitar-playing half of They Might Be Giants sounds (and looks!) like a cross between Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw, but his contributions to this 1986 debut are stylistically all-over-the-map, and he reveals himself to be a surprisingly versatile vocalist. The self-deprecating "Number Three" ("There's only two songs in me, and I just wrote the third!") is ersatz country; the tough-but-funny "Alienation's for the Rich" ("...and I'm feeling poorer every day") is bluesy country-rock. "Chess Piece Face" is hilariously fey art-rock, and "She Was a Hotel Detective" is stomping glam-rock. "Absolutely Bill's Mood" is a pulsing, pounding ode to insanity (dig that Dylanesque title); "Hide Away Folk Family" is sweet pop balladry with truly disturbing lyrics (about a family whose house is about to be torched). "Rabid Child" (about a kid hooked on CB radio) and the surreal "Youth Culture Killed My Dog" ("Bacharach and David used to write his favorite songs ... But the hiphop and the white funk just blew away my puppy's mind") are pure, upbeat pop. The best of the lot is "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," with its infectious New Wave bounce and clever, thoughtful lyrics ("As your body floats down 3rd St. with the burn-smell factory closing up, yes it's sad to say you will romanticize all the things you've known before / It was not-not-not so great ... and as you take a bath in that beaten path, there's a pounding at the door;" "Ads up in the subway are the work of someone trying to please their boss / And though the guy's a pig we all know what he wants is just to please somebody else").
That's not to say that John Linnell, the boyishly handsome, accordian-playing half of TMBG, doesn't have his moments. On the exuberant opener "Everything Right is Wrong Again," the furious closer "Rhythm Section Want Ad," the brassy "Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes," the gorgeous "She's an Angel," and the classic "Don't Let's Start" ("No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful / Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful!"), he offers hints of things to come on albums like Lincoln (1988) and John Henry (1994). (I must also mention "Hope That I Get Old Before I Die," his polka-flavored duet with Flansy featuring the line, "I think about the dirt that I'll be wearing for a shirt.")
Plus, I'm pleased to report that the filler quotient is rather low on this 19-track album; "Boat of Car" (featuring Margaret Seiler on lead vocals and, inexplicably, a sample of Johnny Cash's "Daddy Sang Bass"), Flansburgh's "Toddler Hiway," and Linnell's "32 Footsteps" are amusing at first but don't hold up to repeated listens. And the Flansy-Linnell duet "The Day" is notable only for its opening line, "The day Marvin Gaye and Phil Ochs got married" -- how could the rest of the song possibly live up to that, anyway?