Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 26: They Might Be Giants, "Birdhouse In Your Soul"

Artist: They Might Be Giants
Song: "Birdhouse In Your Soul"
Album: Flood
Year: 1990

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While there is certainly no "easy" way to write a great song, one can easily make the case that it is far more difficult to write  a"funny" or "weird" song than it is to write a more "normal," blues or rock based song.  Another way of saying this is that the line between "novelty" and genius is quite thin, and a majority of bands that end up attempting this first style miss by a long shot and appear to be "trying too hard" or simply appearing as silly.  Yet there is one band that for nearly thirty years has walked this line perfectly, and churned out some of the most original and brilliantly quirky music in history: They Might Be Giants.  Though the group first gained notoriety from their songs receiving rotation on the legendary Dr. Demento radio program, it did not take long for the band to receive a record deal with a large label, and this is where some of their most brilliant work occurred.  The manner with which the group has been able to combine some of the most infectious musical progressions with witty, often absurd lyrics is unlike that of any other band in history, and a number of their songs have become "classics" and have crossed into countless other genres and fan bases.  After releasing a pair of truly magnificent records, They Might Be Giants found themselves signed to Elektra records, and it was then that they recorded what remains their most commercially successful record to date: 1990's Flood.  Containing most of their best known songs, there are few in their catalog that can compare to the overall sound and mood of the now iconic single, "Birdhouse In Your Soul."

The most obvious change that occurred when They Might Be Giants entered a "major" recording studio is immediately evident on "Birdhouse In Your Soul" as the sound of the band is far more clean.  This allows the true brilliance of the bands' orchestrations to take center state, and the small aspects that make their music so fantastic are easier to spot.  This is largely due to the musical genius of the team of John Flansburgh and John Linnell, and from the almost "introduction" style opening of the song building to the core hook, "Birdhouse In Your Soul" is a true explosion of musical enjoyment.  The key to the sonic pleasure that is "Birdhouse In Your Soul" lies within the amazing and catchy keyboard progression, and the tone that is brings to the song is one of pure joy.  As the steady beat from drummer Alan Bezozi bounces across the track, it becomes nearly impossible to listen to the song without swaying your head from side to side.  Along with an equally enjoyable bassline, "Birdhouse In Your Soul" stands as one of the most simply complex songs ever recorded, as there is a stunning amount "going on" musically, and yet the overall feel of the song is still wide open and not in the least bit overwhelming.  This ability to create such sonic juxtapositions is the true genius behind "The John's" and the key to "Birdhouse In Your Soul" being such an unforgettable and unique moment in music history.

It is a rare occasion that the singing and words to a song are in equal proportion to the memorability of the music, but on "Birdhouse In Your Soul," the group is able to keep these two in balance, as there is no aspect of the song that does not immediately implant itself in your brain.  With a vocal approach that might only be loosely compared to that of DEVO, the rhythm and sound of the vocals is nothing short of fantastic, and one would be hard pressed to find a chorus that is more irresistible to sing at the top of your lungs than one winds on "Birdhouse In Your Soul."  Along with the music and singing, the lyrics are perhaps where They Might Be Giants shine brightest, as their ability to find the balance between the absurd and astonishing is far beyond that of any other group in music history.  Truth be told, "Birdhouse In Your Soul" is a song that is told from the perspective of a nightlight, working with the idea that at night, the nightlight is the "only friend" of the listener.  While such a concept might seem as if it was for kids, there is a profound quality to the idea, and the words continue to resonate more than two decades after the albums' first release.  This exploration of the relationship between the human and a nightlight is thrown across history, as the group makes comparisons to lighthouses which guided (and continue to guide) ships to safety.  "Birdhouse In Your Soul" is a rather touching lyrical work when one inspects it deeply, yet even at its surface, it remains an amazingly catchy song that cannot ever be forgotten.

While many bands have attempted to develop and record an original sound, few have done so with the talent and vision of They Might Be Giants.  Straddling the line between novelty and genius, there has truly never been another made that had a similar sound, and this is largely the reason the group has retained such a large following over the decades.  Bringing an uncanny talent for unique rhythmic patterns and creating stunning musical textures, the team of John Flansburgh and John Linnell stand as two of the most important musical minds in history, and it was their "anything goes" spirit that played a major role in the development of the "alternative" music movement in the early 1990's.  While their first two albums are unquestionable musical masterpieces, the group took a sharp turn with their first "major label" release, and the results were far cleaner and perhaps a bit more "accessible" to the more casual listener.  Yet this is not to say that Flood is any less of a musical achievement, as it contains some of the groups' most beloved songs, and the complexity of the music is just as amazing to experience as anywhere else in their recorded catalog.  Furthermore, one can easily make the case that the albums' most memorable single, "Birdhouse In Your Soul," stands as the bands' finest lyrical work, and the contrast of sentimental feeling with abstract concept is truly uncanny.  Pushing all the way to the third spot on the "Modern Rock" singles charts, They Might Be Giants cemented their names as music legends with their uniquely brilliant 1990 single, "Birdhouse In Your Soul."

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