Here it is, the most eagerly anticipated kids music release of the year. They Might Be Giants' Here Come the 123s, to be released this Tuesday, February 5. Almost exactly three years after the release of Here Come the ABCs, was this release worth the wait?
Unlike many CDs, especially in the kids' field, the songs and videos here have had a decent airing thanks to the band's popular iTunes video podcast. So assiduous surfers have had the chance to hear and see more than a half-dozen songs. Those songs are a good guide to the rest of the CD/DVD set in a number of ways.
"One Dozen Monkeys," for example, features lead vocals of TMBG associate Dan Levine's nephew Hannah Levine, indicative of how in general kids' voices are heard much more than on the previous disks. John Linnell's son Henry has some spoken parts in the funky, horn-assisted and Dust Brothers-produced "Seven" (a highlight of the album). They serve as a counterpoint to the music and the absurd story about sevens crashing a party.
"Even Numbers" is the loveliest animation on the DVD, but there are several other beautiful or distinctive videos that haven't yet been seen. It's where TMBG's attraction to animators and Disney's deep pockets pay huge dividends. Matthew Canale's "One Everything" has the friendliest and most anthropomorphic planet Earth ever seen. Hine Mizushima's "The Secret Life of Six" uses stop-motion photography to animate a mid-tempo look into six's secret life (it's like a numerical version of "D and W"). The Brothers Chaps of Homestar Runner fame are responsible for the rocking "Figure Eight." David Cowles directs a number of videos here. In other words, this is probably the best collection of animation the general public is likely to see this year. It's like a Sesame Street best-of.
Finally, "Nonagon" and "Apartment 4" are two really good songs, but they're by far not the only good ones. My wife didn't think there was anything quite as instantaneously distinctive as "Alphabet of Nations," but I think there are a number of excellent very memorable songs here -- the aforementioned "Seven," for example, plus the very danceable "Nonagon" and swirly "Apartment 4." "Figure Eight" rocks and has the awesome line "If you take a zero in your hands / And twist it / That's an eight." John Flansburgh's giddy vocals on "I Can Add" mimic the exuberance kids feel when they master something. ("I don't even know Spanish," Flansburgh shouts between verses, "but I'm gonna sing it in Spanish!") As a whole, I think the songs are better here than on Here Come the ABCs. They won't teach your kids how to add, but they'll probably at least get your kids more familiar with numbers if they're not already. (And the songs dealing with concepts -- "Zeroes," "One Everything," "Nonagon," for example -- do so fairly well.)
Two other comments: I don't think the three Disney-related songs at the end of the CD and DVD really fit in very well (nor are they quite as good, though "Heart of the Band" is fun), but I'm also the parent of a girl who was obsessed with the Higglytown Heroes theme at the end of the last album, so I realize that many kids won't care. Also, the clunky and user-unfriendly DVD menu from the last DVD has been much improved so that you can watch individual songs, just the songs, or the whole thing, including the occasional interstitials featuring the knitted John and John puppets, whose bits are every bit as loopy and improvised as their podcast appearances (probably because they were clearly filmed at the same time).
Any band with a fan base as broad, age-wise, as TMBG sort of mocks the idea of an age range, but I'll peg the targeted age range at ages 2 through 7. This album (about 45 minutes in length) will be found just about everywhere, including Amazon, which features extra tracks. ("One Two Three Four" is an OK song and video, but not an essential addition to your collection if you're trying to decide where to order the album. I haven't heard the live tracks yet.)
In case it's not obvious, I think Here Come the 123s is an excellent collection. It's a worthy successor to Here Come the ABCs and in many ways even exceeds that fine album. Fans of They Might Be Giants in general or that album in particular will thoroughly enjoy Here Come the 123s. It's a strong batch of songs and the best set of videos you'll see all year. Highly recommended.