They Might Be Giants 

Spine (Idlewild/Rounder)

When silly is your MO, the line between self-parody and business as usual is exceptionally thin. They Might Be Giants has had ample opportunity to explore both sides of that divide. In nearly 20 years of remarkably consistent recording and performing, TMBG's become the riot-nrrd AC/DC. A streak of early classics reached its apex with 1990's Flood, and the Brooklyn band (sometimes a duo, sometimes a group) has spent the last decade in a comfortable groove, recording respectably solid albums, most not much different from their predecessors.

Long after They Might Be Giants slid from rock's B-list, 2002 was a year of unexpected breakthrough. They won a Grammy for "Boss of Me," the theme song from Malcolm in the Middle. They followed it up with the fresh No!, which was ostensibly a children's album.

Spine returns to the by-the-numbers tomfoolery the band wallowed in before its detour to the nursery. Here, the Johns' musical growth is minimal but significant. They've never been as aggressive as they are in the foot-stomper "Damn Good Times" or as groovy as they are in the jazzy "Au Contraire." And "Museum of Idiots" is, doubtless, the best pop-music brass waltz you'll hear this year.

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