It’s hard to resist the allure of a pink monster hearse, especially when They Might Be Giants are behind the wheel. The band’s first set of songs for adults in four years, Join Us not only restores their bite, it also recalls the vintage weirdness of albums like Apollo 18 and even their self-titled debut. At a healthy 18 tracks, the album spans the relatively straightforward power-pop of “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” to the psychic’s lament “You Don’t Like Me” with plenty of room for one-of-a-kind sketches like “Protagonist,” which boasts stage directions via deadpan backing vocals.
As Join Us‘s cheekily funereal artwork suggests, John Linnell and John Flansburgh’s sense of humor is particularly mordant this time around (maybe writing all those songs for kids finally got to them?) The normally mild-mannered pair are downright vicious on “When Will You Die?” where Linnell envisions the celebrations that will happen when a horrible, unnamed person finally kicks the bucket; “Judy is Your Viet Nam” compares a protracted, hopeless relationship to that protracted, hopeless war. Elsewhere, the Johns’ song fodder includes beheaded saints (“You Probably Get That a Lot”) a party for Banksy and Anonymous (“Celebration”) and brain-twisting time travel (the excellent “2082″). Join Us gets weirder as it goes on; “The Lady and the Tiger” and “Three Might Be Duende”‘s Scrabble stew pays service to They Might Be Giants’ proudly geeky roots. And while Join Us may skew darker on the whole, it’s still a TMBG album for adults is still appropriate for listeners of all ages. Just be ready to answer the question, “Mommy, what’s a cephalophore?”