When They Might Be Giants shifted from accordions to guitars

When They Might Be Giants shifted from accordions to guitars

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.

When They Might Be Giants released John Henry in 1994, fans and critics alike wrung their hands about the band’s shift from accordions and drum machines to a bass-drums-guitar rock band. The concern was understandable—the minimalist sound had supported some of the band’s best records, including two masterworks, Flood and Lincoln—but the worry was ultimately wasted energy. John Henry may sound bigger, but its songs are just as personal, intimate, and funny as They Might Be Giants’ previous work.

“Destination Moon,” an ingeniously structured pop confection, is one of John Henry’s standouts. Like many songs by John Linnell and John Flansburgh, it’s both funny and off-putting: Its narrator is clearly disturbed, eschewing the well wishes of concerned friends (“Thank you for the card with the cartoon nurse / But you see there’s nothing wrong with me,” Linnell sings jovially), while considering his upcoming trip to space. The ostensible reason for his moon shot is kept a mystery until the song’s bridge, in which Linnell intones, “Soon the man who sweeps the room / Brings the secret telegram / Commence official interplanetary exploration.”

We’ll never know if the narrator’s astronaut fantasy is idle daydreaming, serious mental delusion, or something in between. It’s to Linnell’s and Flansburgh’s credit that they never tip their hand, perhaps to imply that the reason doesn’t matter. We all need daydreams, and some of us even need mental delusions. We all, like the song’s narrator, need something to get us out of bed—then out the front door, to the taxi, to the airport, and to our rockets, whatever they may be.