They Might Be Giants have a surprisingly large amount of collections in their discography; most of them, like Then: The Earlier Years, are dedicated to cataloging the band's first few years. Rhino's double-disc set Dial-a-Song remains an excellent, extensive overview, but until A User's Guide to They Might Be Giants, there hadn't been a worthwhile single-disc collection of the band's music. This is somewhat understandable, considering just how many songs They Might Be Giants have written over the years -- and at 29 tracks, this collection isn't that much bigger than some of the band's regular albums. As its title implies, A User's Guide to They Might Be Giants tries to represent as many of the group's different kind of songs as possible within a relatively small package. For the most part, it succeeds, balancing the Giants' best-known songs with some more offbeat choices. "Don't Let's Start," "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," "Birdhouse in Your Soul," and "Ana Ng" are all present and accounted for, along with educational/historical favorites like "Meet James Ensor," "James K. Polk," and "Why Does the Sun Shine (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)." The band's more surreal side is represented by "Purple Toupee" and "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head" as well as by the album's quirky opening and closing choices, "Minimum Wage" and "Spider," but there's also room for some of They Might Be Giants' more affecting songs, like "They'll Need a Crane" and "She's an Angel," which is still one of the sweetest songs John Linnell has ever written. A User's Guide to They Might Be Giants also has its fair share of later career highlights, such as "Cyclops Rock," "Older," and "No!" (like the children's album that this track comes from, this album is also a darn fine collection for kids). A sampling of TMBG's soundtrack work, including their fabulous "Dr. Evil" theme from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and the full version of "Boss of Me" from Malcolm in the Middle, round out the collection. A User's Guide to They Might Be Giants concentrates on the band's brightest, poppiest material, which might disappoint die-hard fans looking for their own personal favorites, but this album isn't designed for them. However, it does do a good job of giving an overall feeling of what They Might Be Giants' two-decade career is about, especially for new listeners.
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