Picks and Pans Review: Lincoln

updated 01/30/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/30/1989 01:00AM

They Might Be Giants

A pop song about a purple toupee, a grandiose composition about a rainstorm of pencils, a drinking song about a cow that lives under the ocean, a jingle about a shoehorn with teeth: These derive from They Might Be Giants, probably the most inventive rock and roll duo on earth. Lincoln, presumably named after the suburban Massachusetts town where both of the Giants grew up, includes more of the weird, catchy and wonderful music that has earned this band an ever-expanding cult following. John Flansburgh, 27, and John Linnell, 28, often display the variety of composing skills associated with old-time Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths. Though they shift from jazz to blues to rock and everything in between, all of the songs are so theatrical that they could form the basis of some nutty off-Broadway revue. Apparently bored by rock-music stereotypes, the two Johns, when they aren't mining their synthesizers for weird sounds and rhythms, are tossing in unexpected horn and percussion effects. When other devices fail them, Flansburgh shifts his voice from an eerie facsimile of John Lennon to a whacked-out lunatic caterwaul that would make Sam Kinison envious. Every once in a while the music gets so strange that it loses its good-natured appeal, and the looseness that allows the Giants to produce great twisted clich├ęs and wordplay sometimes strays into self-indulgence, e.g.: "Life is a placebo masquerading as a simile." Usually, though, the Giants succeed at mixing all of their experiments into pop songs that are as tuneful as anything on Top 40 radio. They hit their peak on this album with Kiss Me, Son of God, a look into the mind-set of an absolute dictator: "I built a little empire/ out of some crazy garbage called/ the blood of the exploited working class/ but they've overcome their shyness/ now they're calling me Your Highness/ and the world screams, 'Kiss me, Son of God.' " (Bar None)

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