Essential New Music: They Might Be Giants’ “I Like Fun”

As a quintessential fan’s band (seemingly beloved, at some point, by virtually anyone who’s been a nerdy adolescent in the past 30 years—and/or a nerdy pre-tween in the past 15) whose work is absurdly consistent in both quality and inimitable, idiosyncratic M.O., it’s hard to imagine any new TMBG record either majorly disappointing their faithful or engaging those outside the fold. Their 20th—and perhaps most aptly titled—likely won’t change the latter, either, but it deserves to more than most. Musically, it’s another melodic goldmine and their most vigorous, least fussy work in ages, hearkening back to 2007’s The Else, and even 1994’s John Henry, in favoring guitar-centric power pop and straight-up rock ’n’ roll.

Lyrically, I Like Fun might be the most black-humored of an often deceptively dark catalog—the album’s positively anthemic final refrain runs, in part, “We die alone/We die afraid/We live in terror”—which is likely an oblique sign of the times. While little here is overtly political, it’s hard not to read many of these characteristically sly, knotty songs—a triumphal-sounding yet crushingly sardonic time-capsule missive; a report of “lake monsters” swarming the polling stations; feeble optimism following some unnamed, probably apocalyptic catastrophe; even a posthumous post-mortem from one of Bluebeard’s victims—as reflective of our current grim state of affairs. As the irrepressibly bouncy swingtime opener puts it: “Let’s Get This Over With.”

—K. Ross Hoffman