John Flansburgh and John Linnell, better known as They Might Be Giants, have made a career of writing bite-size, ridiculously catchy tunes, and a quick look through their songbook reveals a playful preoccupation with grade-school subjects: science (“Why Does the Sun Shine?”), American history (“James K. Polk”), art (“Meet James Ensor”), geography (Linnell’s solo album State Songs). So it’s almost surprising that they’ve waited nearly 20 years to record a children’s album. No! (Idlewild/Rounder) doesn’t sound all that different from a regular They Might Be Giants disc, though the lyrics are a little more straightforward: “Clap Your Hands” exhorts us to do just that (as well as stomp our feet and jump in the air) over a tinny Memphis soul groove, and the title track pairs a garage-rock riff with helpful advice like “No is always no / If they say no, it means a thousand times no.” As always the two Johns make fine use of their very different voices. Portraying the broom in “I Am Not Your Broom,” Flansburgh calls up the spirit of Burl Ives from the Rankin/Bass version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, while Linnell’s super-nerd insouciance perfectly complements the funk-rock “John Lee Supertaster”: “When he tastes a pear / It’s like a hundred pears / (It’s like a million pears).” And in keeping with the album’s theme, the last three songs are all about going to bed. Friday, August 2, 7:30 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 312-595-7437 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Catherine McGann.