John Henry (album)

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John Henry
Studio album by They Might Be Giants
Released September 13, 1994
Recorded 1993–1994
Genre Alternative rock
Length 57:07
Label Elektra/Asylum
Producer Paul Fox & They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants chronology
Back to Skull
(1994)
John Henry
(1994)
Live!! New York City 10/14/94
(1994)
TMBG studio album chronology
Apollo 18
(1992)
John Henry
(1994)
Factory Showroom
(1996)
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[1]
Entertainment Weekly B[2]
NME (7/10)[3]
Robert Christgau (choice cut)[4]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3/5 stars[5]
Tiny Mix Tapes 4.5/5 stars[6]

John Henry is the fifth studio album by American alternative rock group They Might Be Giants. It was released in 1994. It is the first album by They Might Be Giants to utilize a full band arrangement, rather than synthesized and programmed backing tracks. The album's name, a reference to the man versus machine fable of John Henry, is an allusion to the band's fundamental switch to more conventional instrumentation, especially the newly established use of a human drummer instead of a drum machine.[7]

John Henry is TMBG's longest record and was the band's highest-charting adult album, having peaked at #61 on the Billboard 200, until 2011's Join Us, which peaked at #32.[8] In 2013, the album was reissued across a double LP by Asbestos Records.[9]

Lyrical themes[edit]

The lyrics to the song "AKA Driver" refer to a "NyQuil driver". John Flansburgh offered an explanation of the legal issue with the inclusion of a brand name:[10]

It was a brief education for us in the difference between protected speech and trademark infringement. Although it was a possibility that we could have gotten away with it, or settled with the NyQuil manufacturers for a small amount of money, the path of least hassle was simply omitting the name from the package. According to our lawyer you can say pretty much anything in a song about a product, and that expression is a protected part of every American's freedom of speech. However when you title a song after a trademarked product and then start selling your recording (which is also a product) you run the risk of the trademark holder suing you for infringing on their trademark. To make matters tougher on ol' NyQuil Driver, trademark holders are compelled by the law to protect their trademark or they run the risk of their product name falling into the public domain.

"I Should Be Allowed to Think" excerpts the first line (I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical) of the poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg. The song is also, according to its author, John Linnell, an example of the use of an "unreliable narrator".[11] "Meet James Ensor" refers to an eccentric Belgian expressionist painter whose works excited John Flansburgh. In an interview, Flansburgh explained that "the line 'Dig him up and shake his hand' is actually very specific – a parallel idea to a lot of his paintings which involve resurrections, skeletons and puppets being animated. [...] With the song, I'm trying to encapsulate the issues of his life – an eccentric guy who became celebrated and was soon left behind as his ideas were taken into the culture and other people became expressionists."[12] "Why Must I Be Sad?" is a string of references to Alice Cooper song titles and lyrics, involving several titles from the Billion Dollar Babies album including "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "I Love the Dead," and others.

Track listing[edit]

All songs by They Might Be Giants unless otherwise noted

  1. "Subliminal" – 2:45
  2. "Snail Shell" – 3:20
  3. "Sleeping in the Flowers" – 4:30
  4. "Unrelated Thing" – 2:31
  5. "AKA Driver" – 3:14 (They Might Be Giants, Tony Maimone, Brian Doherty)
  6. "I Should Be Allowed to Think" – 3:09 (They Might Be Giants, Tony Maimone)
  7. "Extra Savoir-Faire" – 2:48
  8. "Why Must I Be Sad?" – 4:08
  9. "Spy" – 3:06
  10. "O, Do Not Forsake Me" – 2:30
  11. "No One Knows My Plan" – 2:37
  12. "Dirt Bike" – 3:05
  13. "Destination Moon" – 2:27
  14. "A Self Called Nowhere" – 3:22
  15. "Meet James Ensor" – 1:33
  16. "Thermostat" – 3:11
  17. "Window" – 1:00
  18. "Out of Jail" – 2:38
  19. "Stomp Box" – 1:55
  20. "The End of the Tour" – 3:18

Personnel[edit]

John Henry is the first album credited to They Might Be Giants as a full band, rather than a duo:

Additional musicians
  • Robert Quine - guitar solos on "Sleeping in the Flowers" and "No One Knows My Plan"
  • Hudson Shad – vocals on "O, Do Not Forsake Me"

References[edit]

  1. ^ Allmusic review
  2. ^ Entertainment Weekly review
  3. ^ Album reviews at CD Universe
  4. ^ Robert Christgau Consumer Guide
  5. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Christian Hoard (2004). The Rolling Stone Album Guide. New York City, New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 808. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 
  6. ^ Tiny Mix Tapes review
  7. ^ tmbg.com information on John Henry at the Wayback Machine (archived June 6, 1997). Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  8. ^ Billboard.com TMBG chart history. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  9. ^ "They Might Be Giants - John Henry 2xLP". Asbestos Records. Retrieved 2013-05-16. 
  10. ^ tmbg.com John Henry track information.
  11. ^ Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns), 2003. Dir. AJ Schnack.
  12. ^ West Net interview with John Flansburgh.

External links[edit]