Various Artists

Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants

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A They Might Be Giants tribute album seems long overdue. John Flansburgh and John Linnell have always been fantastic songwriters -- obviously witty, but also perceptive and able to handle sad or sentimental subjects with a light touch that somehow makes them even more poignant. Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants gathers friends and admirers to pay homage; like most tribute albums, the results are mixed, but there are enough bright spots to make it a fitting tribute. The collection does indeed feature versions of several of They Might Be Giants' most beautifully written songs: David Miller turns in a jangly, '60s pop rendition of "Narrow Your Eyes," one of Flansburgh's subtlest songs about a failing relationship. Charles Douglas gives "She's an Angel" a chugging, indie rock makeover that's cute enough, but not nearly as transporting as the original -- there's something about the swooning slide guitars and oddly portentous synths on They Might Be Giants' version that make the song great beyond its seemingly nonsensical but insightful lyrics. The Wrens contribute a dramatically different version of "They'll Need a Crane," arguably the saddest song in TMBG's songbook. By slowing the song's tempo to a crawl and beginning the song with what was once its emotionally blunt bridge, they turn it into something slow and anguished instead of swiftly heartbroken. Many of the songs here are older, going back to the band's first three albums, and many of the acts on the album have roots in '90s alternative and indie rock, adding to Hello Radio's nostalgic feel. There are lots of song choices that show just how much the artists involved love They Might Be Giants: OK Go's "Letterbox" is a fun, unexpected pick, while Recepter's "Boat of Car" fails -- but tries admirably -- to out-weird the truly bizarre original that appeared on TMBG's self-titled debut. Best of all, though, is Frank Black's version of "Road Movie to Berlin," who makes the original's semi-jokey country more authentic while keeping its late-night weirdness. Who better than the former Pixies frontman (and old friend of They Might Be Giants) to invest surreal lyrics like "We were once so close to heaven/Peter came out and gave us medals/declaring us the nicest of the damned" with some genuine emotion? Other highlights include Jason Trachtenburg's acoustic cover of "Doctor Worm" and Steve Burns' indie-tronic version of "Dead," which samples Linnell's backing vocals from the original. Though there are a few too many overly straightforward covers on Hello Radio, the love for They Might Be Giants shines throughout -- and that very reason makes it worthwhile for fans of the band to give it a listen.

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