For parents who cut their teeth on irony-infused ’90s-era alternative rock, saccharine children’s music can be a bitter pill to swallow. Ever listened to Raffi—really listened to Raffi? It’s enough to make you go the way of Kurt Cobain.
Thank god, then, for They Might Be Giants. TMBG’s brand of Brooklyn goof-rock has been helping adults refuse to grow up for two decades now. Though band founders John Flansburgh and John Linnell have some heavy indie cred, they broker in the trade of light-hearted fun: Tunes like “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Particle Man,” “The Statue Got Me High” cut through the era of grunge angst by appealing to the kid in all of us. Now they’re appealing directly to our kids.
Their new release, Here Come the 123s, is—on one level—all about numbers (the digits one to 10 are well represented, as are zero, infinity, and 813). On another level, though, it’s a trip through your musical subconscious mind. The songs it contains represent a wide range of genres—from disco to bossa nova to funk to garage rock—and every one of them is utterly infectious. Take, for instance, “High Five,” a slick disco riff, or “Figure Eight,” a jangly guitar-driven pop confection, or “Seven,” a Dust Brothers-produced funkfest, or “Number Two,” a piano R&B number that calls to mind Leon Redbone, Levon Helm, and Leon Russell—these songs are so delicious and catchy in part because they are at once new and familiar.
But there’s more here than numerical order and silliness—TMBG has a philosophical side that peeks through in a few of the songs, most notably in “One Everything.” That song is dedicated to the yogic idea that all of existence is a unified field (refrain: “It all adds up, it all adds up, it all adds up to one”). The lyrics ask: “What if you drew a giant circle?/What if it went around all there is?/Would there still be such a thing as an outside?/And would that question even make any sense?”
Slacker moms and dads can put this on and chill in the knowledge that the little offspring is being enriched as well as entertained. And that’s what counts.