I was pretty overwhelmed by Lincoln and not necessarily in a good way. I had heard so much about the band but didn’t really know anything. On Lincoln they came across to me as a sort of poor mans’ Camper Van Beethoven, which probably not fair for many reasons. But I feel very differently about this record.
One main reason is simply because of Tiny Toons. I remember that episode about as much as any Tiny Toons episode and so I immediately recognized both of those songs. (I had no idea one was a cover simply because my only exposure to it was through a children’s animated show.) It’s pretty hard to overcome the goodwill that arises when you learn who recorded songs you enjoyed as a child. So the moment “Istanbul” came on my experience of this record changed.
Flansburgh and Linnell are not really my kind of songwriters – their songs come across to me as too clever too much of the time – but I can’t deny that they can write decent hooks and their lyrics sometimes make me laugh. But usually when I’m looking for amusement in music I’m looking for more than just amusement.
And the thing is, though these guys play a bunch of instruments and genre-hop, they don’t really do enough of that to overcome whatever it is about their songwriting and singing that I don’t love. That’s where the unfair Camper Van Beethoven comparison comes in – They Might Be Giants are objectively better songwriters but CVB are a lot more compelling musically.
When I write stuff like that I kind of regret it – the bands aren’t the same and I’m only forcing the comparison because I can’t think of any other bands to compare to TMBG. I think my real issue is probably just the way they sound as singers. I don’t love their voices, which make some of their lyrics sound snide rather than sincere, which is something which wouldn’t have bothered me at all when I was 20, but I first listened to these guys in my late 30s, so…
This is a roundabout way of saying I think this record is much better than my review would indicate, but I think this band is not for me, at least in this stage of my life. I can imagine an alternate reality when I discovered them at, say, 18, and fell in love. But that didn’t happen. And so instead I’ll keep listening to their records when those anniversaries come up and I’ll wonder about what exactly I’m missing that their fans see.