Picks and Pans Review: Flood

updated 02/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

They Might Be Giants

Nobody can accuse They Might Be Giants of selling out on this, their first major-label release. All evidence indicates that despite having moved from the obscure Bar/None label over to big-time days at Elektra, John Flansburgh and John Linnell intend to maintain their status as one of pop music's most inventive and eccentric duos.

Flood, the Giants' third LP, spews out a torrent of catchy tunes and surprising lyrics in a range of styles, including reggae, country, swing, folk rock and even Monty Python-style parodies of show tunes and TV jingles.

Most of the Giants' lyrics weld unrelated images together into songs that, like dreams, open up to all kinds of interpretations. And like some of the weirder Beatles songs, the Giants' rollicking melodies make it tempting to sing along even when the words defy explanation. Typically enigmatic is "Birdhouse in Your Soul," which includes the very hummable chorus, "The blue canary by the outlet by the lightswitch who watches over you/Make a little birdhouse in your soul."

Other songs flow across similarly absurd turf. "Dead" seems to be about someone who is reincarnated as a bag of groceries. The surf-rock tune "Twisting" isn't about dancing. It describes a woman who wants to see her boyfriend lynched. "Minimum Wage" gives a funny, concise 44-second musical interpretation of what it's like to work for low pay by including the sound of a cracking whip and a Rawhide-style hoot.

Conventional clearly they're not. The Giants know very well how to follow the standard formulas of pop music, but every time they start to go that way, they seem to get bored and throw in a bizarre lyric or jarring electronic effect. At times, the thin synthesizer, accordion and guitar based accompaniment sounds harsh, and Flansburgh's vocals can slip into a piercing, stray-cat mode. Yet the Brooklyn-based duo has so many fresh ideas and such a great time turning them into songs that only a hopeless sourpuss can listen to Flood without lapsing into smiles and foot tapping. (Elektra)

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