They Might Be Giants have been around for a long time now. Since the group’s inception in 1982, John Flansburgh and John Linnell have carved out a niche for themselves as the kings of “geek rock” and their output in the late 80s and early 90s remains the standard-bearer for quirky, twee alternative music. I Like Fun upholds TMBG’s reputation dutifully, and proves that though the two Johns may be approaching their sixties, they’ve hardly lost a step since “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”
I Like Fun, for better and for worse, is TMBG doing TMBG. While there’s hardly a dearth of variety here, everything feels solidly within the band’s wheelhouse. Even the nudges and gestures towards less familiar genres and moods (“An Insult to the Fact Checkers” aims for a more angular, punky vibe, and “Push Back the Hands” emulates Passion Pit-style indie pop) are made to feel quintessentially TMBG; that is, they’re catchy, clever and stuffed to the brim with off-the-wall instrumentation.
And don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say “catchy.” One listen through this album and half these tunes will be rattling around inside your skull for weeks. Songs like the bouncy “When the Lights Come On” and the infectious, power-pop-flavored “All Time What” are earworms in the best way possible, genetically engineered for you to hum merrily on your way to work. Even less upbeat cuts like “Mrs. Bluebeard” have a certain playful energy that makes bobbing your head along nearly irresistible.
As with any TMBG album, the only times I Like Fun falters are when the Johns follow their lyrical ideas into musically uninteresting territory. Songs such as “McCafferty’s Bib” and “The Greatest” feel almost unfinished, leaving the instrumental at little more than a looped beat or a tuba and combining it with some of the weakest vocal melodies on the album. Make no mistake, though, the gems far outweigh the duds here and leave a much more lasting impression.
If you’re a longtime fan of TMBG, I Like Fun delivers exactly what you’ve come to expect from them, and if you’re new to the club, it’s a great introduction to their sound and style. Thirty-five years and twenty albums into their careers, the Johns are still as goofy and exuberant as ever – but really, how could they not be? After all, they like fun.