They Might Be Giants: I Like Fun review – If Samuel Beckett wrote songs...

I Like Fun
    
Artist: They Might Be Giants
Genre: Alternative
Label: Idlewild Recordings

You get strange looks singing along to They Might Be Giant's terrific 20th album, swept by expertly crafted power pop into delivering sentiments worthy of a Beckett play. "We die alone/ We die afraid/ We live in terror/ Naked and alone," goes the surging chorus of album closer Last Wave.

Like the springy opening number Let's Get This Over With, whose spry piano, hand claps and galloping harmonies disguise the heavy heart of its lyrics, you could take it all as a mordant, musical joke. Such are the hazards of a Brooklyn band that have moved so easily between alternative rock, TV theme tunes and children's records, as though guided only by quirk.

With I Like Fun, though, John Linnell and John Flansburgh apply the deceptive discipline of their pop (few songs last more than three minutes) to bear the weight of a starker philosophy.

The sly lyrics and insouciant melody of I Left My Body, the weird coil of brass and pain-relief in the title track, and the propulsive yearning in Push Back the Hands of Time all point sunnily to a world of dread, decline and death. Why it should feel so effervescent, so strangely steeling, is because the songs, like the band, have reassuring staying power.

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about theatre, television and other aspects of culture