This story was published Febraury 24, 2005 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.
Music is supposed to inspire, to enliven, to invigorate. It should also ask questions of the listener, questions like, “What if God was one of us?”, “War: what is it good for?” and “Who let the dogs out?”
They Might Be Giants’ new children’s album, Here Come the ABCs, raises its own pertinent questions, like “Who put the alphabet in alphabetical order?”
It’s a good question, and in the midst of midterms, some well-placed kid’s music works wonders.
“Alphabet of Nations” begins with Booker T-style traveling music and moves smoothly into pop-happy piano. The alphabetical list of countries includes favorites like Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe, as well as “West Xylophone.”
With twangy guitars, a muffled drum machine and syncopated background quacks, “Q U” will cue you to correctly spell tricky words.
A later track, “Who Put the Alphabet in Alphabetical Order?”, adds depth and vitality to the album with an operatic female vocalist and pounding keyboards.
“L M N O” has a base in Jamiroquai-style funk, but is crowned with what can only be classified as “spaceship noises.”
If psychedelic ’60s-style Brit-rock is your thing, then the doubled vocals, echo effects and distorted guitars in “Pictures of Pandas Painting” will blow your mind.
Tracks like “Clap Your Hands” and “E Eats Everything” are as catchy as the flu, and they pack an educational punch. For example, “C is for Conifers” offers interesting tree trivia and the philosophical “Can You Find It?” considers the linguistic difficulty created by silent letters.
Here Come the ABCs’ lyrical highpoint takes the form of a spoken sequence between the letters D and W:
D: W, you think you’re so great.
W: Well I am pretty big.
D: Yeah, you’re okay. You’re just not as great as you think you are.
W: How come I never see you around anymore, D?
D: I got this big T.V. set at home, and I like to watch the sports.
From pandas painting to sports-loving letters, Here Come the ABCs is a record with diverse musical styles and zany lyrics. And while I wouldn’t spin it at a party, They Might Be Giants’ kids’ album inspires, enlivens and invigorates, just like music should.