They Might Be Giants – Phone Power (Album Review)

Back in 2015, They Might Be Giants founders John Linnell and John Flansburgh revived their old Dial-A-Song service. The idea was simple: fans would phone a specialised number, that number would be linked to an answering machine and the machine would play any song for whoever called in. Of course that song would frequently change in weeks so fans could get various different tracks to hear. Last year the band revived the premise by doing the same thing, a weekly song update and posting each song to YouTube. Phone Power is the band’s third album in two years from and, like the previous two, Glean and Why?, it is comprised of songs from their rebooted 2015 Dial-A-Song project on YouTube and will be released as a pay-what-you-want download.

Phone Power starts strong with ‘Apophenia’ a fantastic introduction to the rest of the album with superb light guitar riffs and complete with catchy tap-along vibe. ‘To a Forest’ is an equally mellow track but stands out from the rest of the album as the acoustic guitar with organ accompaniment combination changes the tone for the better. ‘Trouble Awful Devil Evil’ is a catchy twisted song to go along with its title and, while it keeps in with the tone of the album musically, lyrically it does feel nauseatingly repetitive.

The album seems to suddenly travel to the 1980’s with ‘Sold My Mind to The Kremlin’ having synths on the high and low end joining with vocal harmonies that wouldn’t be out of place in an extended mix with the Man Without Hats hit ‘The Safety Dance’ and lyrics that recall Ronald Reagan and Lou Ferrigno complete the 80’s flashback. ‘I’ll Be Haunting You’ takes this 80s throwback vibe with an excellent use of disco-pop united with the bands regular tone.

The main bonus from the album is the addition of ‘Bills Bills Bills’, the cover of the Destiny’s Child song from 2010. Fans of the band have been asking for this to a released and it is sure to delight them as the R&B of the original song has been switched into an indie style track. Yet it is this exact thing that undermines the album slightly: that this is an album for the existing fanbase. While it delivers exactly what a fan would want, it feels like it does little to reach beyond them to new audiences.

Phone Power does come across a B-side compilation at times rather than a fully fledged album, but for every B-side that comes across as forgettable there is another track that surprises you and is worth multiple listens. Phone Power is the weakest of the Dial-A-Song collection so far, an album that conflicts with itself, some songs are strong in melody but weak lyrically and vice versa, after the closely timed releases of Glean and Why? you do get the feeling that this is an album recommended for die-hard fans of the band.

3/5