We were once so close to heaven
June 15, 2020 10:26 PM   Subscribe

30 years and 6 months ago, They Might Be Giants released their first major-label album, Flood. 6 months ago, a number of accomplished musicians spoke to Spin magazine about what the album meant to them, as did John Flansburgh. In addition, Spin republished their original review of the album, which was much more positive than Rolling Stone's dismissive 2/5 star review.

If you'd like to learn more,
This Might Be a Wiki has more information on the album than you could reasonably desire, including info on the promotional blue night light.

Bonus: As part of the 30th anniversary celebration, TMBG released an official karaoke version of Your Racist Friend.

Previously, Schoolchildren cover Particle Man
Previously, Jonathan Coulton covers Flood
Previously, Metafilter covers Flood
Previously, They Might Be Giants cover Flood
posted by subocoyne (55 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if it has earned out by now? That was one of my introductions to how record companies rip off musicians, _Flood_ had sold a million copies over 20 years, and according to the record company it still hadn't made any money.
posted by tavella at 10:32 PM on June 15

Flood is one of my all-time favorite albums. From start to finish it's a complete delight. I fondly remember listening to it with my sibling and cousins on seemingly near-constant repeat in the early 90s. I vaguely even recall listening to the occasional song on a little handheld radio we had. Finally, as someone who rarely pays attention to lyrics, I'm pretty sure I could sing along with 99% accuracy to that entire album.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 10:41 PM on June 15 [17 favorites]

posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:54 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]

They were originally planning to tour earlier this year for this album's 30th anniversary. Then...
But it's been rescheduled for later this year going into 2021. Some of the dates still have tickets available.
posted by acidnova at 11:02 PM on June 15

Why is the world in love again? Why are we marching hand in hand? Why are the ocean levels rising you? It's a brand new album. For nineteen ninety. They Might Be Giants' brand new album Floooooooooooooooooooood!
posted by kaibutsu at 11:06 PM on June 15 [29 favorites]

Minimum wage, heeeeeeeyaaaaaaaaaah
posted by taquito sunrise at 11:14 PM on June 15 [24 favorites]

Love this album so much. I was really happy to get tickets to the 30th anniversary show in October--I hope the virus has settled down enough in L.A. by then that it doesn't get postponed, not looking too promising though...

I was at the 10th anniversary show at the Bowery Ballroom, can't believe it's been 20 years!

Also previously on MeFi: the best version of "Birdhouse" ever
posted by equalpants at 11:19 PM on June 15 [11 favorites]

TMBG were the first band I independently decided I liked, and their self-titled album was my first cassette. I can definitely sing along to most of this record.
posted by migurski at 11:25 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]

Ahhh, that's the good Gen X stuff.

To be completely honest, they were a little too arch and gimmicky for me at times, but when they bang, they bang.
posted by praemunire at 11:42 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]

The verse in the original version of "Road Movie to Berlin" that didn't make it on to the album version is apt for our times:
You said you were the King of Liars
And I believed you and called you sire
But I realize now that I have been deceived
posted by misteraitch at 11:51 PM on June 15 [8 favorites]

a cutesy trumpet solo, for instance, ruins the otherwise well-intended "Your Racist Friend."

I always envisioned the horn section to be a mariachi band that marches through the party and shames the shit out of everyone there
posted by benzenedream at 12:03 AM on June 16 [15 favorites]

There’s nothing really inaccurate in the Rolling Stone review. I just want to put my arm around the reviewer and tell him, “It’s OK, David. It’s not for you.“
posted by LEGO Damashii at 12:06 AM on June 16 [17 favorites]

The Rolling Stone review is hilarious! He's like hey, dorks, pick a lane, are you parody or satire? Cuz you're blowing it at both. And, paradoxically, maybe try being more genuine?

And the straight counterpoint from an artist they inspired:

"Unencumbered by the snotty concepts of “novelty” or “quirkiness” that I was about to learn, I didn’t hear genre-hopping or pastiche. The songs were natural outcroppings of a generous, welcoming musical universe—one defined not by a particular sound or set of instruments, but by its warmth and uniqueness."

They were never a novelty band. There just isn't a genre that can contain them.
posted by team lowkey at 12:22 AM on June 16 [21 favorites]

Playlist of MetaFilter’s cover album from the 25th anniversary.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:36 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

One of the few bands I've seen live 3 times - I don't think I own a single TMBG album but god they're a spectacular live show.

Incidentally, the titular movie is online if you need a quar watch.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:22 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

This album, along with Primus' Frizzle Fry, will forever remind me of my final semester of college, and broke me out of my Metallica/Led Zeppelin rut. And also listening to it with friends and drinking and eating pie. And then, a little later, singing along while driving around upstate New York with my graduate-school girlfriend.

So really, a lot of things.
posted by Gorgik at 2:09 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]

This was one of the albums in the genre of "music my parents owned and that I liked before I started independently discovering music I liked". Particle Man and Istanbul were favourites, I recall. I possibly haven't listened to the whole album in 30 years.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:27 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I was happy to see one person in that Spin article got into They Might Be Giants from that one episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, which is how I figured everyone else born between 1981 and 1985 found out about them.
posted by jackflaps at 4:26 AM on June 16 [13 favorites]

There was a review of the art world in the 80s that described it as a decidedly punk-drunk mindset. Cynicism and sarcasm were the modes of expression, so cuteness of any sort had to be ironic or it wouldn't fly. Serious artists had to work on grim things, and Keith Haring's cute little figures blew everyone's minds: how could this be important art if it was so adorable?

So there was a strong separation between the serious and the silly that basically said "You're either Alien or you're Ziggy. Pick one, and keep Ziggy away from me." And this explains the Dr. Demento box that people put all kinds of clever art into as "mere novelty work". I first heard TMBG on Tiny Toons, but they always seemed more like an Animaniacs kind of band: more Marx Brothers than Bugs Bunny.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:49 AM on June 16 [10 favorites]

jackflaps, I'm several years too old to be in that category, but I was still catching Tiny Toon Adventures in high school while waiting for BBSes to answer my call.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:50 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]

Hey, we were watching Tiny Toons and Animaniacs in college. That was good stuff.

This is probably a good place to mention that there is a fight scene in Umbrella Academy set to Instanbul (not Constantinople).

Flood was my gateway to TMBG. I've seen them live a bunch of times (The best was at EMP Skychurch in Seattle) and they never disappoint.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:08 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

I’ve seen them live multiple times too, and though they rock with a full band, the show they put on with just the two of them on stage with a backing track was so fucking over-the-top. So much musicianship, so much showmanship! Did you know it’s possible for one person to play two saxophones simultaneously? And the things they did to that poor glockenspiel! They’re a band with multiple great eras, but their early work was just so different from what anyone else was doing at the time.
posted by rikschell at 5:32 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]

Here's a topical (Youtube) variant on Your Racist Friend that came up in my Facebook feed this morning.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:46 AM on June 16

There are two bands whom I've loved since childhood, who are still rocking thirty years later, and who have never once let me down. One is TMBG. The other is "Weird Al" Yankovic.

Spearheading the MeFi Flood tribute is one of my proudest achievements.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:54 AM on June 16 [10 favorites]

Somehow this disc drove off the Suck Fairy for three decades. ALL HAIL.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:56 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]

The Rolling Stone review is hilarious! He's like hey, dorks, pick a lane, are you parody or satire

Yeah, as a 1992 Rolling Stone Album Guide-revering teenager, I remember similar ideas during the era when RS reviews of Depeche Mode or Tribe Called Quest would max out at 2.5 stars but the 4's would generously flow to Enuff Z'nuff and Ratt. There's a great website called Rolling Stone's 500 Worst Reviews where the creators explore how confused the magazine was by how to classify De La Soul and ATCQ, for example. Why couldn't TMBG just rock??

The comparison of the band's sense of humor to Letterman's is also an interesting stage in the evolution of 90s irony, I'm curious to understand this better.
posted by johngoren at 5:57 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]

the Giants – New York singer-songwriters John Flansburgh and John Linnell – need to prove themselves an all-out novelty act or trenchant musical parodists. Judging from Flood, they are unwilling to make either commitment

hell yes hell yes, TMBG rules
posted by Greg Nog at 6:00 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

One of my fonder memories of college, and theater, and all that sort of stuff, was a drive from the our school in the Quad Cities to Minneapolis, for a theater festival at Concordia. We were taking a show we'd done, where I worked the lights, I think. One of the students acting in the show, he had Flood with him, and he and I sang pretty much the entire album in two part harmony during the trip. Even better, the other people in the car honestly didn't mind us doing it.

The album is such a joyous thing to sing along to, and while I didn't keep in touch with the guy, singing along in two part harmony for about an hour is hands down the best music-making experience I've ever had.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:03 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

Their children's album NO! is just as good.
Fibber Island
posted by prepmonkey at 6:25 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]

I bought an old car on an auction site a couple years ago. It was owned by TMBG manager extrordinaire Jamie Kitman and I got to go to the Hornblow offices to close the deal.

Reader, I saw the RIAA Gold Album of Flood. Seriously, highlight of the trip, even considering getting the car.
posted by hwyengr at 6:37 AM on June 16 [12 favorites]

I recently sung "Dead" a cappella to entertain some people on Zoom. It works, just with one voice. Try it.

I've talked enough about how much I love this band, but one thing that really struck me when I first listened to Flood in high school, together with a few of their earlier albums, is how they didn't seem to hate women. Sometimes the relationships in their songs don't work out, but it's not because women are terrible or men are free spirits who can't be caged. The women in their songs make their own decisions, and generally they're good ones. It's never suggested that the girl in "Twisting In the Wind" is wrong. I had had some bad experiences with Serious Guys who liked Serious Music, and I loved knowing that this band was here for me, and that my exes would hate them.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:02 AM on June 16 [14 favorites]

Is this another opportunity for me to say that my college rock band opened for TMBG in 1995? It was pretty freaking amazing. Among other things, their final encore was a cover of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein."
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:14 AM on June 16 [13 favorites]

It's difficult to overstate the importance of this album to me. It changed my life. Not in any earth-shaking epiphany type change, but in the "there was the me before the album and the me after the album is a different person."

It's one of those "remember where you were" moments of my life. I was a young father of a two year old and a second child on the way. I was home with my son who was napping on a Tuesday afternoon when I caught the video of "Birdhouse" on MTV and fell instantly in love with it. That just isn't something that happens to me.

I was in Ohio and one of best friends had just moved to DC. He was constantly scooping me on new bands and while we both knew TMBG from college radio, we were marginal fans at best. I called him shortly after I bought the CD and said, "I've got a record for you to listen to." His response still makes me smile.

"Is it Flood from They Might Be Giants?"
posted by MorgansAmoebas at 7:42 AM on June 16 [14 favorites]

Of all the concerts I've been to, nearly half of them were TMBG shows. We try to catch them every time they're in town. The 20 year tour for Flood was pretty fantastic. St. Louis Mardi Gras in... whatever year that was when it was 9 degrees F, the musicians couldn't feel their fingers and the audience was standing on a sheet of ice mostly holding each other upright.... was miserable but it was still TMBG!
posted by Foosnark at 8:08 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I saw them in Boston in...some time around 95-97? It was indeed a fun show. I still remember they were selling shirts that said "Music self-played is happiness self-made."
posted by praemunire at 8:18 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

My favorite local musician, who normally has a Friday night gig at a bar in Santa Monica that I have never gone to because getting to Santa Monica on Friday night is not a thing I'm ever going to manage, has taken his show online for the duration and will, for a modest donation, learn and play through a whole album for the second hour of his show.

We first saw his band when they opened for TMBG in the summer of 2004, and in honor of that and the 30th anniversary of Flood, requested it. The results - he's a guitar player, so had to write his own arrangements for a very synthy-stringy-horny album - were pretty fantastic (unfortunately, the shows are on FB Live, so you'll need an account; the first hour is a general cover set, I think Flood starts around 1h:10m).
posted by Lyn Never at 8:25 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]

I only saw them live in a bookstore. It was a book signing for their book Kids Go! Kids, parents, and me were there. But after a lot of talking, they stood up and did Particle Man. Oh joy! I first learned about them 30 years ago, when a couple coworkers played Flood for me. Their music has never grown old.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:50 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

johngoren beat me to it, but I still gotta pitch in and say that RS record reviews have always been kinda shitty; I did my perusal in the late seventies and early eighties, and even as an impressionable teen, it was pretty obvious that they short-shrifted people whose records have passed the test of time in favor of whatever power-pop monger had caught their attention that week. This has come up on the blue before, but just infrequently enough that it's fun to browse through schmidtt's list and see how wrong someone can be if/when they believe that, if they're writing record reviews for RS, they can't possibly be wrong.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:52 AM on June 16

Also, I finally saw TMBG when they played Gen Con a few years ago in Indianapolis, and even though the sound wasn't great, the band was.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:52 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]

I just went to go listen to Flood, but then got distracted by Ana Ng, which I had to hear, then I wandered through a few tracks on Lincoln, then started the self-titled album from 1986 and sang through the entire album from memory while trying to write code.

I was addicted to that album when it came out, and looking back on it now it's simply stunning. Going from (She Was A)Hotel Detective to She's An Angel to Youth Culture Killed My Dog is one of the best three-song arcs on any album, ever.

Anyway, thanks for making this a great morning. I'll probably to listen to Flood this afternoon. I'm getting anticipatory goosebumps.
posted by MrVisible at 8:58 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]

A friend of mine at university had this on CD - at a point when few people I knew had CD players - and we played it and played it. It's deeply ingrained in my psyche.

Years later, the same friend and I met up for a drink in London, meeting for the first time in years. After the first few beers, we realised that TMBG were playing later that evening across the road. We wandered over, bought some of the last tickets, had a couple more drinks and then went back for a brilliant, unexpected and deeply nostalgic gig. A great band and a fantastic record for 1990, and for today. And tomorrow. It will always be great.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:24 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]

in our house: "daddy daddy can you play the song with the singing meat?" (not Flood, but a recent TMBG song that is a total earworm)
posted by benzenedream at 9:39 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]

I love reading about how this album was such a significant milestone for so many people, as it was for me. TMBG is one of the few bands for which not only does the music itself hold up after so many years, but they are still making music, and the artists themselves didn't become or reveal themselves to be crappy people!

Tiny Toons was also my entry into Flood, TMBG, and self-selected music in general. My best Flood story is that I was once taking a bath while listening to the album cassette on a boombox, and even though I was done bathing I languished in the tub to sing along to the end of Road Movie to Berlin. Just before the album concluded, a massive glass light fixture detached from the ceiling and shattered on the bathmat where I would have been standing had the album been one minute shorter. So, it may have literally saved my life.
posted by subocoyne at 10:28 AM on June 16 [10 favorites]

I flew out, just before Covid canceled everything, to meet a friend and see the 30th anniversary show. It was a great show in a fun venue, and a good time, and I even managed to pick a hotel that share the lobby with the theater, so we could leave our coats in the hotel room and just walk over. That last one may seem ridiculous, but it was really nice.

My first experience of the band was grading student papers late at night with one of those video compilation shows, maybe 120 Minutes, on in the background. They played “Put Your Hans Inside the Puppet Head,” And I threw myself across the room to turn the volume up to see what the hell was going on. I bought that album the next day.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:12 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]

Fresh out of high school in 1996 I went to apply for a gig at my college radio station. When they said "what's your idea for a show" I said "I'm thinking maybe an all-TMBG show" and they said "someone's already doing that show" and I was like fuck yes, college!
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:17 AM on June 16 [22 favorites]

I was a little young when this came out, but once I heard a friend's older brother's copy (93?), I was hooked. Eventually I had to get an email address through a long distance BBS so I could subscribe to TMBG-list and from there got in to all the things that Top 40 radio wouldn't bring to my town. They defined a lot about adolescence. When dial-a-song got a website, my parents could finally stop asking each other about random calls to New York (387-6962 narrrrrrr).
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:55 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

I was happy to see one person in that Spin article got into They Might Be Giants from that one episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, which is how I figured everyone else born between 1981 and 1985 found out about them.

I'd somehow forgotten why I went out & bought Flood in the summer of '96, but yeah, absolutely it was Tiny Toons!

It's not that Flood & TMBG were formative for me per se? More like, I was a specific type of weird smart nerd kid, I loved listening to music, & Flood was the first time those worlds ever collided for me -- suddenly here was music made by & for the same type of weird nerd kid.

Prior to discovering TMBG, I'd gotten close to this sensation with Weird Al, but he was still rooted in mainstream culture references, a weird guy who knew his place in a neurotypical world.

Same thing with my (beloved) K-Tel novelty song albums: they were "wacky" in comparison with an established "normal," which the contrast only served to reinforce. (Making an exception here for "Little Boxes" which was social commentary & probably wound up on the K-Tel compilation because "ticky-tacky" is an inherently silly word.)

TMBG was different because each of their songs seemed to encapsulate a tiny universe with its own rules, where real-world objects & concepts might exist, but probably not in a completely familiar form -- and it's never presented as important what the Normal World thinks about all of this.

Someone Keeps Moving My Chair is a classic tale of weirdo-on-weirdo aggression. Whistling in the Dark is almost a mini-Hero's Journey where the weirdo protagonist is approached by weird antagonists he can only defeat by proclaiming his commitment to whistling in the dark above all else. Dead, Birdhouse in Your Soul, & Letterbox are bizarre monologues from incredibly specific perspectives.

Speaking of which I need to stop monologuing myself & get back to my day job; Flood is a very special & good album, is my point here basically
posted by taquito sunrise at 2:41 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

There's a great website called Rolling Stone's 500 Worst Reviews where the creators explore how confused the magazine was by how to classify De La Soul and ATCQ, for example.

Welp, because of the RS 500 Worst Reviews link, I've gotten nothing done at work today! Thanks for the link!

PS - my favorite TMBG tune is "Birdhouse In Your Soul". I discovered it on a mixtape I found on the ground (!) back in the 90s. My brother is a huge TMBG fan, too.
posted by sundrop at 2:50 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

Wouldn't you know that the day after I make this post, TMBG e-mails me to say that Flood Live in Australia is now a free download!
posted by subocoyne at 4:00 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]

Thanks for that, subocoyne, I just snagged it, and I'm looking forward to giving it a listen.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:03 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

My memory may be off but I feel like my first exposure to tmbg was when Scott Hamilton did a figure skating piece to Istanbul.... Tmbg makes Art that is appropriate for so many arenas!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:01 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I've seen them about four times, always a great show. In 2002 at The Fillmore in San Francisco with the Band of Dans they did a great bit where they played a radio over the PA while they cycle through the stations, and play songs that they come across. (They did "Free Fallin'" when I saw them.)

They also did "She's Actual Size" where the audience yelled for different drum solo styles (audio only), from Clyde Stubblefield from the James Brown Band to Animal from the Muppets.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:07 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

Istanbul (not Constantinople) is a bloody excellent karaoke song. My audience didn't know what hit it.
posted by ephemerae at 1:22 AM on June 17

they did a great bit where they played a radio over the PA

Spin the Dial! I saw them do this when I was in high school and they were not impressed with the radio offerings in Kansas City. It was great.
posted by katieinshoes at 5:51 PM on June 17

I saw them do Spin the Dial at Trees Lounge in Dallas. They found some heavy metal station and the band just started blasting and John screamed GAAAAAAAAS MAAAAAAAAAASK! over and over into the mic.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:44 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

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