They Might Be Giants have always had a flair for educational songs. More than a decade after its release, the refrain of "Why Does the Sun Shine" ("The sun is a mass of incandescent gas/A gigantic nuclear furnace") still has a pesky way of lodging itself in the brain. And, as the band's wonderful first children's album, No!, demonstrated, They ...
They Might Be Giants have always had a flair for educational songs. More than a decade after its release, the refrain of "Why Does the Sun Shine" ("The sun is a mass of incandescent gas/A gigantic nuclear furnace") still has a pesky way of lodging itself in the brain. And, as the band's wonderful first children's album, No!, demonstrated, They Might Be Giants' music speaks to kids in a way that few other bands' work can; they never sound like they're talking (or singing) down to their smaller fans. Here Come the ABCs makes the most of the band's ability to teach and reach children, and more than delivers on its promise to "learn ABCs the fun way!" Since this is a more educational enterprise than No! was, Here Come the ABCs is a little more straightforward and like a traditional children's album than its predecessor. Several songs, like "E Eats Everything," are more or less recitations of the alphabet, albeit with a few twists: "Z Y X" brings the album to a close with a dramatic backwards reading of the alphabet, and "The Alphabet of Nations" is a mini-atlas, spanning Algeria to Zimbabwe. This is still a They Might Be Giants album, though, and the band's catchy melodies and smart wordplay haven't been dumbed down. "Flying V," with its charming, Vince Guaraldi-like pianos and images of migrating geese and electric guitars, is another of John Linnell's seemingly effortless but brilliant songs, and "C Is for Conifers" offers an extra-credit lesson in botany as well as the alphabet. Here Come the ABCs brings personality to the alphabet's characters, with some letters sharing songs and others getting songs of their own. The bouncy "Go for G!" is an immediate kid-pleaser, while "Q U" casts these letters as pals that "make a cool sound together" -- much like Linnell and Flansburgh themselves. F gets "Fake-Believe," a celebration of imagination so good that they had to include it on the album twice. Other songs are more conceptual: "Pictures of Pandas Painting," which is all about alliteration, lives up to its psychedelic title, while "Who Put the Alphabet in Alphabetical Order?" gets downright meta. Amidst all the learning, there's still plenty of room for plain old fun, as shown by the squiggly synths on "Letter Shapes"; the self-explanatory "Clap Your Hands"; and "Rolling O," which celebrates the joy of making silly mouth noises with scat-like babbling. Though some of the songs feel a little incomplete without the dazzling visuals of the DVD version, Here Come the ABCs is still a delight. It might be slightly less magical than No!, but it's a far cry from a by-the-numbers (or letters) children's album. [This CD/DVD version of the album contains over 50 minutes of animation, puppets, and performances (in addition to the standard audio).] ~ Heather Phares, Rovi