1982 was the year that couldn’t stop giving. It saw the birth of affordable home computing with the launch of the Commodore 64, Mickey Jay’s Thriller was released, ET pointed his bulbous-phallus-like finger homeward, Joan Jett couldn’t stop telling us about how much she loved rock ‘n’ roll and somewhere in deepest, darkest Brooklyn (via Massachusetts), They Might Be Giants were born.
31 years later, we now have more processing power in our phones than the one gazillion C64s hacked together, MJ had to ‘Beat It’, ET’s gone home never to come back, Joan Jett is still shovelling dimes into that jukebox baby and TMBGs have released their 16th – yes, 16th – album, Nanobots.
The album opens conventionally enough with ‘You’re on Fire’, the type of solid indie guitar fare that should come as second nature to seasoned practitioners like TMBGs two Johns. It sounds like the bastard child of a B52s coupling with Franz Ferdinand with a smattering of the Strokes thrown in for good measure (but fortunately for us, it’s not as bad as I’ve just made it sound).
But fear ye not, dear reader, for their hallmark quirkiness is but a track or two away. Eccentric little ditties soon abound about a myriad of topics ranging from a Q & A with a Replicant, trips to the ‘Insect Hospital’, an homage to the electrifying father of the x-ray, Nikiola Tesla; the perils of falling for a ‘too tall girl’, the titular Nanobots, plus everything else in between.
Musically, it also covers a lot of ground. Effortlessly skipping between the traditional Indie-pop of ‘Stone Cold Coup d’Etait’, sounding like a lo-fi jazz noodling ‘Prince on The Darlings of Lumberland’ and the frug-a-rug Gauloise smoking coolness of the lead single, ‘Icky’.
In total there are 25 tracks on Nanobots and it still comes in under the 45-minute mark. Admittedly a lot of these are more sketched ideas than fully fledged songs, the shortest of which is a mere 6 seconds long. TMBG operate with a sense of brevity and directness that would have the previous masters of succinctness, Napalm Death, wailing in envy.
But does it all hold together? Surprisingly, yes. Or maybe we shouldn’t be surprised given the mileage these guys have on the clock. The songs flow nicely together and benefit from being listened to in the context of the album as a whole. Tracks under the minute mark just wouldn’t make sense listened to in isolation and there are worse ways to pass 45 minutes that popping on this opus of oddness and following them on their merry dance.
Not right now for me though, I’m off to dig out my Joan Jett greatest hit album. All together now “… singing, I love rock ‘n’ roll”.