Forget breaking up — it’s growing up that’s hard to do, and some bands will stop at nothing to avoid it. After all, that desire is pretty much what the entire punk movement was founded on. Although They Might Be Giants doesn’t exactly fit the bill of the punk scene, they, too, have exhibited a reluctance to grow up over their 16-album run, most recently by making their living with albums aimed at children. And although their latest album, Nanobots, is being billed as their first adult offering in recent memory, one listen makes it evident that they haven’t quite let go of the children’s music scene.
While some might welcome adult listeners might welcome the change of pace, for the most part, the direction the album takes is somewhat off-putting. Yes, the tracks do an amazing job of embodying youth — they are lively, energetic and at time silly. And yes, the musicianship is up to snuff — with songs that are lyrically diverse and interesting instrumentally, although at 16 albums in, this shouldn’t even be a question for the band. Nanobots certainly has all the makings of an excellent children’s album. The problem is that it isn’t billing itself as such.
Taking that into consideration, the album becomes immediately problematic. The youthful sound starts to grate, coming off mostly as immature. Songs such as “Tesla,” literally a musical biography of inventor Nikola Tesla, serve to confound rather than educate with their subject matter. Even the album’s structure itself, a 25-track compilation that runs only 45 minutes, becomes irritating — the 15 second songs seem better suited to a child’s capricious attention span than an adult looking to indulge in some alternative rock.
Objectively, then, the album is not bad. But the fact that it cannot seem to make up its mind as to whether or not it wants to be an album targeted at children or adults definitely serves to harm rather than help it — just like any person caught in the same predicament, it can’t be taken seriously until it makes a choice once and for all.