Posted by: markfender | October 17, 2012

Headphones Diaries – January 5, 1990

I arbitrarily picked the first week in January 1990 to begin this series. But it turns out there’s a pretty interesting release that week.

They Might Be Giants

It’s harder to get more alternative than They Might Be Giants. They’re so alternative they’re not even “cool” anymore.

I actually heard this album much later than when it was first released. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that it was released the first week in January at the turning of the decade. That gives one of the first lines from the album a whole new meaning: “It’s a brand new album for 1990.” They meant that in more ways than one. Deep.

They Might Be Giants are definitely an acquired taste. Their particular brand of nerd rock – can it even be classified as rock? – takes a certain mindset to appreciate. And I’m not sure I have that mindset. Don’t get me wrong. I actually like this album. But, for God’s sake, the first song is about a NIGHTLIGHT?!?!?!

And yet, it’s still pretty infectious. In fact, pretty much every song on this album is a great song that you find yourself humming along to or, even worse, singing along with. They’re catchy, even if they’re weird. I can’t help but start talking along with “Whistling In the Dark.” And are you going to deny the sheer fun of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”? Answer: You are not.

And yet, I don’t really like They Might Be Giants. I haven’t enjoyed any of their other albums. And while, there’s usually one or two songs that you can listen to again, none of them compares to Flood. Flood is good from back to front. But I don’t want to be unfair to They Might Be Giants because they’re a good band. They are a band I can appreciate. They’ve produced a ton of songs over the years. They’re almost too prolific. No one else sounds like them. No one else should sound like them because they’re unique unto themselves. I’m glad that a band like them exists, even if I myself aren’t all that enthused about them. Despite the kind of ridiculous sounding music, their lyrics are actually fairly deep and well-thought out. I don’t know why you’d write a song about a nightlight, but that is one damned fine nightlight song.

Did it age well? For me personally, this one’s pretty nostalgia-tainted. Listening to this album years later definitely reminds me of their brilliance and I think I probably appreciate the musicianship demonstrated on a deeper level now, but this one is pretty hooked to a specific time in my life. I have more fond memories of singing along to this album with friends like the giant dorks that we are than I do of really sitting down and grooving to this.

Should this go on my iPod? Only if you already have a “Weird Al” playlist. Not to say it’s the same sort of music as “Weird Al” (as I actually find a lot of TMBG’s lyrics to be fairly serious despite the “fun” veneer), but if you already have an appreciation for whiny vocals and accordions, you probably couldn’t go wrong with more of that.

The Sundays
Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

One more album came out this week that I wanted to talk about. Well, not actually the album, but the band. Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic from The Sundays was also released this week. I’d never actually listened to this album (but had heard their follow-up Blind), but listening to it now I’m not enthused. Her voice is great and the songs work well, but it’s not something I’m particularly into. If you’re into folk and acoustic work, it’s quite good, but I’ve got to be in a specific mood for that sort of thing. However, their sophomore album, released in 1992, has one of those rare phenomenons on it: the cover of a song that transcends the original. Their cover of “Wild Horses” absolutely destroys the original. Mick Jagger was never meant to sing that song, Harriet Wheeler was.

Did it age well? How can a song from before I was born be nostalgic for me?

Should this go on my iPod? “Wild Horses” deserves a place on your iPod. And while you’re at it, excise any other versions. (Their song “Summertime” from their third album is also not terrible.)



  1. Every TMBG album’s got some gems on it, though I agree that Flood is probably their strongest front-to-back collection of tracks, with John Henry and Severe Tire Damage in the running. Of course, STD is a live album, so it’s them playing a bunch of they expect to be well-received by their fans. Sadly, Istanbul (not Constantinople) is a cover. I remember my mom being astonished that I knew the words to such an old-timey tune.

    • Yep. That’s why I didn’t specifically link to the Youtube video of that. It’s probably their most popular song, but it’s not originally theirs. Besides, they’ve got their own stuff that’s just as good, if not better, that deserved some highlighting.

  2. Agree 100% on the Wild Horses cover.

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