They Might Be Giants dispense with the pleasantries right away on their fourth full-length album for kids, Here Comes Science. "I like those stories / about angels, unicorns, and elves / Now, I like those stories / As much as anybody else / But when I'm seeking knowledge / Either simple or abstract / The facts are with science / Science is real." That's from the leadoff track "Science Is Real," and once the band has set down its marker down like that, they've clearly made the decision that the album isn't going to feature songs like those about a letter D who likes to watch the sports or a whole bunch of number sevens who crash a birthday party.
Instead, the album is, well, educational in a way that mainstream kids music hasn't seen since Schoolhouse Rock. Luckily for the band, nobody remembers the Science Rock set of songs (except "Interplanet Janet"), so anything they do that's halfway tuneful will be a massive improvement. And that cup is definitely more than half full. "Meet the Elements" has an undeniably catchy chorus and mixes just enough science (all of us are mostly made of four elements) and whimsy (the song takes a detour confusing elements with elephants) that it is impossible to not like the song. "I Am A Paleontologist" is a bouncy rocker featuring Danny Weinkauf's vocals which conveys more the excitement of discovery rather than many dinosaur details, but will make your dinosaur-loving child even more interested in dinosaurs, if that's somehow possible. "My Brother the Ape" attempts to explain evolution to your 8-year-old in 3 minutes of synthesizer-tinged rock and pretty much succeeds. And what could be more scientific than the band re-recording their old cover "Why Does the Sun Shine?," finding out that some of the 50-year-old science about the sun's basic composition in that song had been disproven, and recording a new song, "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?," that puts it context?
If it's not obvious yet, the band has left the preschool set behind with these songs. Preschoolers may grasp a few of the concepts and bounce around a bit, but the world of "Clap Your Hands" is in the rear-view mirror here. I'll admit to missing the goofiness. The songs are good, some excellent, but I think the best songs here are the ones that still have a little goofiness to leaven the learning or don't push too much subject knowledge. "Meet the Elements," "My Brother the Ape," "Put It To The Test" -- these all meet that test quite well. (Some of the songs at the end, like "Computer Assisted Design," don't.) This album is the first TMBG kids' album that feels like they're trying to teach something and while they do it better and more tunefully than just about anyone -- imagine if you'd been able to watch these instead of those Thursday afternoon filmstrips -- you're probably less likely to steal this CD away from your kid to listen on a bright spring day than its predecessors.
Of course, even if you do steal the CD away, they'll still have the DVD to watch. And the DVD is brilliant, my friends. The amount of detail elegantly packed into "Meet the Elements" is absolutely amazing -- 3 minutes and 19 seconds of knowledge wrapped with a neat little bow on top. Put It To The Test" is hands down the funniest video of the year -- even if you don't have fond memories of your Atari 2600, you'll still be amused by the 8-bit graphics. And videos for songs like "How Many Planets?" and "Solid Liquid Gas" (which already conveyed a good sense of their subjects by sound description) neatly complement the audio. The videos as a whole have top-notch video quality all-around, better than Here Come the 123s, which was already pretty darn good.
The songs and videos here will be of most interest to kids ages 5 through 10. Samples of the songs are all over your favorite online retailers, with full versions of "I Am A Paleontologist" and "Electric Car" available through links in this link.
Kids who've grown up with They Might Be Giants dating all the way back to 2002's No! will take a strong interest in Here Comes Science, and if they have any curiosity they'll be completely taken by the songs and videos here. I'd look to one of the band's earlier kids' albums as the entryway to the band if you've got a preschooler, but I'm sure that soon enough they'll want to hear and see these songs, too. And, yeah, the parents will happily watch, too. I realize that taste is subjective, and I can't literally prove that this is another excellent album, but I'm working on it; I'll let you know when the test is complete. Highly recommended.