Apollo 18 (album)
|Studio album by They Might Be Giants|
|Released||March 24, 1992|
|Recorded||March 1991 at The Magic Shop, NYC|
|Genre||Alternative rock, indie rock|
|Producer||They Might Be Giants|
|They Might Be Giants chronology|
|TMBG studio album chronology|
Apollo 18 is the fourth studio album by American alternative rock duo They Might Be Giants. It was released in 1992 through Elektra Records and named after the Apollo missions, the last of which to be completed was Apollo 17. The album was also associated with International Space Year, for which They Might Be Giants were declared the official "musical ambassadors".
The album marked the first conscious effort by John Linnell and John Flansburgh to branch out of their early sound, opting for more traditional rock rhythms and fuller arrangements. The duo adopted a backing band with live drums during the supporting tour. It was their last album recorded as a duo, and the band expanded to include a regular rhythm guitarist, bass player, and saxophone player for their subsequent releases. The album generated three singles, "The Statue Got Me High", "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)" and "I Palindrome I". Apollo 18 also includes the "Fingertips" suite, a series of twenty-one songs, each under thirty seconds long. This concept was later recycled for the band's sixteenth album, Nanobots, which contains twenty-five songs, nine of which run under one minute each.
After the major success of Flood, Elektra sought out Elvis Costello to produce Apollo 18; however, John Linnell and John Flansburgh elected to produce the album themselves as they had originally planned. The album was recorded at The Magic Shop in New York City. Although the band recorded Apollo 18 primarily as a duo, its production is much less sparse than previous releases. This is reflected in the fact that the album's associated tour, the Don't Tread on the Cut-Up Snake World Tour 1992, was the band's first to utilise a live backing band, rather than a tape deck playing backing tracks. John Linnell commented that this led to much more complicated and deliberate rehearsals.
Often, Linnell and Flansburgh stick to "old standbys" when writing songs. These methods include producing harmonies through improvisation and generating melodies by sampling sounds in varying cycles. However, some tracks from Apollo 18 diverged from these techniques. For instance, "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)" spawned from a jam session of The Tokens song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". The song was also originally intended to simply be titled "The Guitar". Due to the legal ramifications of including the "Lion Sleeps Tonight" motif, Elektra required the band to add the name of the original song to the title. "Fingertips" is a series of twenty-one short tracks ranging in duration from 0:04 to 1:01 seconds, totaling 4:35. The liner notes, in reference to these tracks, include the message "the indexing of this disc is designed to complement the Shuffle Mode of modern CD players". According to John Flansburgh, listening to the album on shuffle made a collage of songs, with the short fingertips interspersed among tracks of regular length. The songs were written to resemble short fragments of pop songs. The format was inspired by advertisements for collections of music, which only included samples of choruses. Due to a mastering error, the European and Australian issues of the CD include "Fingertips" as one continuous track, while on the US edition, it is correctly split into 21 tracks.
Packaging and promotion
The album's cover depicts a giant squid locked in combat with a sperm whale in space, using graphics which the Johns came across while searching the NASA Archive Center for images to use in media art surrounding the album. The Dial-A-Song phone number is misprinted as 718-963-6962 on the back of the album, and the phone number written leads to a warehouse. The album liner notes and artwork for the album's singles include a number of photographs from NASA, and the packaging was designed by John Flansburgh, under the pseudonym "Rolf Conant", with Barbara Lipp.
Between 1992 and 1993, the band's manager at the time, Bo Orloff, sent out various informational updates via email to the band's mailing list. These included a full track listing prior to the album's release, as well as a press release and biography of the band.  The bulletins also included information on the album's associated tour.
The band appeared as a musical guest on numerous talk shows to promote Apollo 18. "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)" and "The Statue Got Me High" were performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and "I Palindrome I" on Late Night with David Letterman. Their appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on 19 May 1992 was the television debut of They Might Be Giants' new backing band.
International Space Year
The band became associated with the International Space Year, designated as 1992 by the United Nations to promote peaceful and collaborative space exploration, when Linnell and Flansburgh were searching the NASA Archive Center for appropriate photographs and visual materials for the album artwork. Staff members at the NASA facility took notice of John and John and inquired about their research. Linnell responded that they "were in this band, we're making this record, and we're going to start touring next year...They were particularly interested in that, because they said that 1992 was International Space Year. It was the first time we ever heard of that, but they said because we were a band going to be touring around the world in 1992 they wondered if we wanted to be spokesband for the International Space Year. So we said why not?"
In support of the designation, the logo for International Space Year is included on the back of the album. The band was scheduled for concerts to endorse ISY, and mentioned in promotional material from NASA, which headed the celebration in the United States. Commenting on the success of the designation of International Space Year, however, Linnell pointed out that he "[didn't] think most people have heard that this is International Space Year".
Don't Tread on the Cut-Up Snake World Tour
In support of Apollo 18, They Might Be Giants embarked on a tour across the United States, Europe, and Asia. The tour was named the "Don't Tread on the Cut-Up Snake World Tour 1992", a reference to the Gadsden flag and the "Join, or Die" cartoon, with the "world tour" affix appended by Elektra Records. The band's largest tour up to that point, spanning the length of 1992, the Don't Tread on the Cut-Up Snake tour was also associated with International Space Year. Although they were initially hesitant about using live backing musicians, it was also the first tour for which Linnell and Flansburgh were joined by a live band, consisting of a rhythm section and saxophonist.
A short video promoting Apollo 18 was produced by Elektra Records, in the vein of the previous Flood promo. In the video, graphic and video illustrations of certain songs are presented, in addition to samples of some of the songs. The video is arranged to resemble a traditional slide show presentation. The video also introduced the concept of the three "Power Spheres", after which the 2005 compilation, A User's Guide to They Might Be Giants: Melody, Fidelity, Quantity would partially be named.
Apollo 18 garnered positive reviews from critics. Allmusic, which gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, stated that the album was more "consistent" than predecessors, making note of its darker tone, but "lacking a standout single". Robert Christgau, who assigned the album an A-, praised the first five tracks especially, asserting that the remaining thirty-three were more experimental in nature. Christgau acclaimed the album melodically, while stating that the lyrics were pleasant but "meaningless". Ira Robbins, reviewing for Rolling Stone magazine, gave Apollo 18 4 out of 5 stars. Similar to Christgau, Robbins called the lyrics throughout the album "whimsy", and said that they were not too complex to weigh down melodies. Robbins also praised the album's eclecticism, observing that "'Turn Around' mimics Forties swing; the funky bass groove of 'The Guitar' interpolates a rewrite of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight', fetchingly sung by Laura Cantrell. Another wry science lesson, 'See the Constellation', mixes a psychedelic/New Wave potion for a bouncy space trip." Robbins was critical of the disorganized "Fingertips" selections. Contrarily, an unconventional review by Craig Tomashoff, published in People, lauded the variety found in "Fingertips". Tomashoff also made note of the wide vocabulary employed in the lyrics (citing, specifically, "Turn Around" and "I Palindrome I"), concluding that the album was "totally cool".
Chorus sample from charting single
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On April 11, 1992, Apollo 18 peaked at #99 on the Billboard 200. It spent six weeks on that chart. "The Statue Got Me High", the first single from the album, peaked at #24 on the Alternative Songs chart on March 21, 1992, and spent eight weeks on the chart. The album's other singles failed to chart.
Although Apollo 18 received a positive response from consumers and critics, some fans were upset that the duo of Linnell and Flansburgh had been augmented to include a full band for the album's tour. In rebuttal, some fans stopped attending live concerts, even taking the aggressive approach of trying to discourage others from entering venues for shows. Despite these reactions, the live band was generally well received. In a New York Times review of a contemporaneous live show, Jon Pareles observed that the band was "just as tricky as ever", and still delighted its audience. They Might Be Giants continues to record and tour with a full backing band.
All songs written and composed by They Might Be Giants, except where noted.
|1.||"Dig My Grave"||1:08|
|2.||"I Palindrome I"||2:25|
|3.||"She's Actual Size"||2:05|
|4.||"My Evil Twin"||2:37|
|6.||"The Statue Got Me High"||3:06|
|8.||"The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)" (They Might Be Giants, Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss)||3:49|
|10.||"Narrow Your Eyes"||2:46|
|11.||"Hall of Heads"||2:53|
|12.||"Which Describes How You're Feeling"||1:13|
|13.||"See the Constellation"||3:27|
|14.||"If I Wasn't Shy"||1:43|
|16.||"Hypnotist of Ladies"||1:42|
|17.||"Fingertips: Everything's Catching On Fire"||0:12|
|19.||"Fingertips: I Hear The Wind Blow"||0:10|
|20.||"Fingertips: Hey Now Everybody Now"||0:05|
|21.||"Fingertips: Who's That Standing Out My Window?"||0:06|
|22.||"Fingertips: I Found A New Friend"||0:07|
|23.||"Fingertips: Come On And Wreck My Car"||0:12|
|24.||"Fingertips: Aren't You The Guy Who Hit Me In The Eye?"||0:07|
|25.||"Fingertips: Please Pass the Milk, Please"||0:08|
|26.||"Fingertips: Leave Me Alone"||0:05|
|27.||"Fingertips: Who's Knocking On The Wall?"||0:04|
|28.||"Fingertips: All Alone"||0:05|
|29.||"Fingertips: What's That Blue Thing Doing Here?"||0:08|
|30.||"Fingertips: Something Grabbed Ahold Of My Hand"||0:12|
|31.||"Fingertips: I Cannot Understand You"||0:27|
|32.||"Fingertips: I Heard A Sound"||0:04|
|33.||"Fingertips: Mysterious Whisper"||0:28|
|34.||"Fingertips: The Day That Love Came To Play"||0:08|
|35.||"Fingertips: I'm Having A Heart Attack"||0:22|
|36.||"Fingertips: Fingertips" (reprise)||0:10|
|37.||"Fingertips: I Walk Along Darkened Corridors"||1:01|
Tracks 17 to 37 are listed as a single entry (track 17), "Fingertips"; however, "Space Suit" is given as track 38 on the CD track listing. The titles for "Fingertips" given above are taken from the first lines provided in the liner notes.
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