Irreverent pop masters They Might Be Giants have returned with their 20th studio album, the straightforwardly titled I Like Fun. Announced in press material as the band's latest "rock album" in order to separate it from the gleeful children's material they've released over the last decade, this description unfortunately also hints at some of the less imaginative textures and production on I Like Fun. Luckily, TMBG split the difference between these sometimes workmanlike rock exercises and other more interesting compositions.
Although still bursting with the wonderfully absurdist wordplay and consummate vocal harmonies one has come to expect from TMBG, these rock-oriented tracks frankly sound a bit dated and uninspired at times. In terms of musicianship, the band inhabit this style like the seasoned pros they are (they spent their early years as a goofy alternative rock band after all), but many fans will likely prefer the sweetly weird center of I Like Fun, which is more reflective of the broader sonic palette TMBG embraced later in their career.
The absolute highlight of these offerings is "Push Back the Hands," which opens with what sounds like a glitched-out Jackson Five sample before settling into a danceable funk groove of its own. It's as tuneful and immaculately constructed as anything the band have done, and next to "When the Lights Come On" (which sounds like someone slipped some Three Doors Down into John Flansburgh's playlist), it sounds irresistibly fresh and fun, leaving one yearning for more similar fare.
That said, I Like Fun remains a strong, if not exactly noteworthy album, simply because TMBG are a strong band that can pull off anything at this point, and although newcomers looking for examples of their late-career excellence should probably start with recent gems like Glean or Nanobots, longtime fans will find much to like here, crunchy guitars and all. (Lojinx)