22 February 2016

Review: They Might Be Giants' Flood by S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer

Mass market paperback, 130 pages
Published 2014
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2016
33⅓: They Might Be Giants' Flood
 by S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer

I've been curious about Bloomsbury's 33⅓ series, a group of short monographs each about a single album, so I looked through the catalog to find one based on an album I'd actually heard. The only one was Flood by They Might Be Giants (I don't listen to a lot of music), so I pretty much had to read it, though as a nice bonus, it's cowritten by Phil Sandifer, whose work I'm familiar with from the infamous Doctor Who blog TARDIS Eruditorum.

It's decent. It's ostensibly about Flood, but the writers take the long way around, and it covers a lot of TMBG's pre-Flood biography, and a little bit of what came afterwards too, in addition to promulgating a general aesthetic theory for TMBG: that of "flooding," of finding joy in creative excess. Reed and Sandifer set up the book with a central question of, "Why do so many geeks love They Might Be Giants when it doesn't involve stereotypical geek signifiers, i.e, there aren't any songs about Star Wars?" and they pose "flooding" as the answer. But although it's a good question (I am a geek who really likes TMBG, even though I only got into them in 2009 with their children's album Here Comes Science) and a good answer, I'm not sure they convincingly link the two: I agree that they "flood," but why is that innately geeky, and why is it uniquely TMBG?

I learned a lot, though; there are bunches of cool tidbits, and Sandifer and Reed even interviewed TMBG (a.k.a. "the Johns") over dinner, though there are fewer insights from that than you might expect. I suspect I would get even more out of it once I've heard more of their work, especially their early stuff (right now my collection of their albums consists of Flood [1990], Here Comes Science [2009], Nanobots [2013], and the 52+ tracks they've released through Dial-A-Song [2015]). Between the biographical material and the (dull, alas) digressions about King's Quest, there's not quite as much about the actual music as you'd expect, but when it's there, it's good, insightful criticism; I like the way they trace the idea of flooding through lyrics, composition, arrangements, and topics. Sandifer is more restrained here than he often is on his blog; I don't know if it's because of having a co-author, an editor who's not himself, or a word limit, but it works to his advantage to be forced to pare down to what really matters.

33⅓ itself is a neat concept; I hope that, someday, another one is released about an album I actually know something about. (The list on Wikipedia indicates I'm not getting my wish this year or next, though.)

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