John Flansburgh and John Linnell see a certain amount of irony in the fact that the duo known as They Might Be Giants has taken to recording kids' albums with an educational element mixed into the music.
"It's a very weird situation for us because we are partly just atoning for the fact now that we were not model students and not always completely on top of the material," says a bemused Flansburgh. "But I think since leaving school we've felt very pro-education. We think it's certainly not unimportant for kids to be informed and for adults to be informed about everything that affects our lives."
Flansburgh and Linnell, now more than two decades into their career, released their Here Comes Science album in September. It's their 14th — unless you count compilations, live albums, EPs and singles, which would add up to a whole lot more — and follows in the wake of three previous kids' albums (No!, Here Come the ABCs and the Grammy-winning Here Come the 123s). They've also released a pre-school book/CD package (Bed Bed Bed) and continue to record charmingly idiosyncratic songs for their adult fans.
The children's projects have given Flansburgh and Linnell a new niche they never anticipated, while garnering attention they didn't always receive for their adult records.
"It has a man-bites-dog quality, that a band that has a reputation for doing adult material would actually venture into the world of kids' stuff," says Flansburgh in regard to why the kids' CDs draw so much attention.
Plus, there's the fact that the quality of their music, arrangements and lyrics tower above most performers' kid shtick.
"Our gimmick with the kids' stuff is that we spend as much time on it as we do our adult stuff," says Linnell. "That's expensive, just from a production point of view. But it seems to have a big payoff in the way people react to it."
In fact, the kids' albums by They Might Be Giants aren't that different stylistically from the adult-oriented releases Linnel and Flansburgh have been making since the mid-1980s.
The pop sense that has always defined the group is a major asset on Here Comes Science. Tracks like "My Brother the Ape" and "Science is Real" (a song intelligent design advocates would ban if they ever listened to it) are filled with perky pop melodies and a bouncy energy that will be familiar to fans of tunes like "I Palindrome I" and "Birdhouse in Your Soul." The group isn't afraid to rock for the kids, either, especially on brisk, catchy numbers like "How Many Planets?" and "I Am a Paleontologist."
With the current tour, They Might Be Giants might sound even more giant this time around. They're expanding the live band beyond longtime members Dan Solder Miller (guitar), Danny Wienkauf (bass) and Marty Beller (drums).
"We are going out with some major changes to our live show," Linnell says. "We're being joined on stage by a multi-instrumentalist and sax player named Ralph Carney. He actually played with Tom Waits for many years. We've got a lot of plans for how to utilize his rather vast bag of tricks."