Thursday, 25 September 2014

7 Inch Singles Collection: They Might Be Giants - Birdhouse In Your Soul

Something geeky...


A-side: Birdhouse In Your Soul
B-Side: Hot Cha
(Elektra 1990)

Ahh, They Might Be Giants, a couple of blokes called John, playing strange instruments, singing songs with unusual subject matters, often very witty, and yet never falling into the trap of being overtly kooky or goofy, which helps them not wear out their welcome. They've been around for years and are still going - apparently they split themselves these days between doing the music they've always done, and recording albums of songs about Maths, Physics and the like for kids.

When I'm thinking of They Might Be Giants I'm always reminded of a bus journey I took from Gloucester to Manchester with my friend Jex, around 1991/92. We were chatting, and the conversation turned, as it often did, to music. Jex asked me to guess who I thought was the band that he was most impressed with at that time. I spent ages making wrong and ill-considered guess, and he started to give me clues, citing things like their instrumentation, their clever lyricism, their propensity to short and to the point songs. Eventually I arrived at They Might Be Giants. At the time I conceded the point and admitted they were an admirable band indeed, even though I thought they weren't up to scratch compared to some of the bands I'd guessed. I get it now though - I completely understand what he was on about, and now I think they are a band worthy of high esteem.

Birdhouse In Your Soul was the breakout hit for They Might Be Giants, it marked the transition from an indie label to a major, and an in-road into the charts. Of course it was ultimately their only big hit - but it did at least put them into the public consciousness. Birdhouse In Your Soul is a bouncy song with an engaging organ sound, jolly blast of horns. Lyrically it is darker than that, I think (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). It's ostensibly sung from the point of view of a night-light, looking after its charge, but is the night-light the only friend this person has, and who looks after the light when it's alone. Odd - but something to think about. Any song that can (non-gratuitously) include the word filibuster has to have something going for it!

More oddness on the flip side with Hot Cha. I'm not sure what the time signature is on Hot Cha, but it's not 4/4, the horns on this side are staccato and parping, punctuating the jazzy 40's feel of the music. There's a great piano breakdown in the middle. Then after less than two minutes it stops. I think the brevity of the song has led me to dismiss this tune before, and not really to listen to it, but I'll admit that it's grown on me. Short, and certainly sweet.

I'd encourage everyone to let a little They Might Be Giants into their soul.

Next time some indie miserablism...

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