When the Barenaked Ladies hit it big with their cheeky brand of spirited, seminovelty pop tunes, people had to ask themselves, "Haven't we seen this act before? And wasn't it called They Might Be Giants?"
Well, yeah, sort of. But though TMBG have never enjoyed chart-topping success or heavy rotation on MTV, (the minor hit "Birdhouse in Your Soul" notwithstanding) they've settled for being kings, or at least feudal lords, of all media. There's the Internet: Giants John Flansburgh and John Linnell have a new album of odds and ends, Long Tall Weekend, that they're distributing only by digital download. There's film and home video: The pair performed a song that appeared in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and on an upcoming Disney Peter Pan video. Radio: They wrote a song on a two-hour deadline to accompany a story about them on NPR's This American Life. And TV: They wrote the theme for the Fox TV show Malcolm in the Middle and will be appearing on five ABC Brave New World science-and-technology reports (with Ted Koppel, no less). And the list goes on.
Not bad for a geeky duo whose claim to fame used to be their answering machine, which you could call to listen to their song of the day, and that catchy tune about the sun's being a mass of incandescent gas. In recent years, they've developed a full-band sound that makes them more accessible than they were when they were cranking out songs like "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," "Particle Man" and "Ana Ng," though it has also robbed them of some of their quirky charm. Better get to this one early: TMBG has always been a St. Louis favorite.
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