The concept: Post-punk progenitors celebrate their 26th anniversary with music as snarky and quirky as anything else in their uneven catalogue. And more misanthropic. "Buried in the Sky" is flagrantly atheistic, yet, as if to leave a door open, Rodney Linderman ends it by repeatedly quoting Romans 13: 13-14. With "Fauxhemia"'s denunciation of shallow hipsterism and "Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song"'s denunciation of glibness (both sacred and secular), it's the perfect antidote to whatever chicken soup happens to be turning souls yellow at the moment.
This album has filler-songs in which Chris Collingwood's knack for compressing compassion and humor until the sentimentalism has been fried out of it doesn't quite achieve the "good taste"-"tastes good" blend he's capable of. But the bull's-eyes he hits, he hits as expertly as any other singer-songwriter currently singing and songwriting for his supper. Stick a knife into "Richie and Reuben," and it bleeds everything from opprobrium to affection. And "Action Hero" is as moving a song about traditional fatherhood as anyone could hope for.
As a singer Wesley Patrick Gonzales still sounds a lot like Jonathan Richman, as a guitarist he sounds a lot like Paul Westerberg, and as a writer he sounds like a combination of both. Less goofy than the former and kinder than the latter, Gonzales makes assailing a 40-something starlet for clinging unbecomingly to her youth ("Bad Mammaries") sound as compassionate as caring for his grief-stricken mother ("For My Mother") and as inevitable as missing the wife who confused him by saying goodbye ("I Am Useful").
The "Johnny" in "Can't Keep Johnny Down" could be John Flansburgh or John Linnell, but it's probably both: Their combined irrepressibility has as much to do with what's kept They Might Be Giants going for a quarter of a century as their combined catchiness and sardonicism do. Still it's the catchiness and sardonicism that keep their irrepressibility from congealing into warmth of any kind. Catchiness doesn't come any colder than "When Will You Die." Or any funnier (or more universal) either.
Those unfamiliar with the music of Trinidad may not know that the "soca" in the title of Mighty Sparrow's latest compilation, the 30-track Soca Anthology: Doctor Bird (VP) is a stylistic extension of calypso that's been stylistically extending itself for over 50 years or that the 76-year-old Mighty Sparrow has been its prime proponent for most of that time. His quantity is undeniable (Doctor Bird duplicates only eight of the 54 selections on Ice Record's 1992 four-volume Mighty Sparrow best-of series), but so is his quality. Seldom has a mellifluous Caribbean baritone been put to the service of such cheerful and insightful tongue-in-cheekiness.
Some will object to his occasional fondness for randy double entendres, but no one who has ever had mother-in-law troubles will object to "Mother-in-Law," and no fool who has ever broken his heart will object to the gorgeously crooned "Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart."