I had multiple issues with this book: the design of the book is nice, smaller books that delve into one record each, but the words were smaller and felt more crammed together and the paper was that blinding white that I really don't prefer. (I didn't count this towards my star rating, however, as they were minor complaints. Maybe I should have as I doubt I'll buy these in paperback for myself, but I didn't.)
Furthermore, I'd read that there were issues with this series in general. See, each one is written by a different author, or even co-written, and this makes this series hit and miss for some people. The review I'm thinking of said that there were either varying quality or interest levels; I'm fairly sure it was quality, but I have not found that to be so - yet. I've only read three of these, however, and I would argue that interest level does vary for me. The Bowie book on Low? I've read that twice and was fascinated throughout. The one on the Beach Boys? That was enlightening, terrifying, sobering, but was another book I would gladly reread. This book was different. Maybe it's because I read the other two as e-books and had a little more control over the things that annoyed me. (Text size, line spacing, margins, and brightness on my Kindle Paperwhite.)
I have a feeling I would have been almost as annoyed reading this as an e-book, however. See, I came into it with a certain set of expectations. The two books I've already read mixed the personal with factional; it was a biography of the artists, although with such little space, it had an economy to the biographical aspect. Everything led back to that one particular somehow, someway. The personal wasn't so much about the authors but about the authors themselves; it made the artists feel more real to me in ways that other non-fiction has not. Perhaps it's the fact that the authors clearly loved their subjects, and that shone through. They were not blindly adoring of their subjects, particularly the Bowie biography. There was no way to make his drug addiction, his feverish hallucinations, his at times extremely bizarre behavior anything other than it was, and the author didn't even attempt to do so. He reported this factually, in an unbiased as possible way, as he did when he spoke of how the record was recorded. The love came through when he spoke of the music, however, and it bled onto the page. There was something honest and deep that could only come from repeated listenings to that record, and from massive amounts of time, thought and energy poured into those songs.
Look, I'm not saying this book wasn't well written. It was. It was factual, in-depth, and the authors had at least limited access to the two Johns who make up They May Be Giants. (There was at least one in person interview.) The problem isn't that they aren't fans of the music, or that they didn't think about this music, or that they don't have smart, opinionated things to say about the music. The problem is it was... dry. Very dry. While the biographical element was limited, that may be because They May Be Giants guard their privacy. (I'm not saying that they're wrong to do so, but rather that because of this, it may be harder to write a heavily biographical piece. Fair. I'm not so much faulting this book for that as for the actual tack it did take.)
But the charm of the other two books was the personal and it was lacking from this book. It was either straight factual biography, or interpretation. It felt like a long paper on the was to interpret They Might Be Giants' songs. The problem I had was I was expecting something else, and well, I got bored.
It didn't help that there hints of something more interesting, like when the authors talk about how unsexy the music is. (Not as a trash talking bit, but rather acknowledging that They Might Be Giants don't really sing about sex.) There's this funny story about one of their college mack out sessions on which this album, Flood, comes on his girlfriends CD shuffler. Knowing that it would kill the mood, he injures himself trying to turn it off. It was funny, yes, but more than that, it spoke to how the music spoke to him. It was a shy little moment, letting the reader in on not only what he liked about the music, but how it didn't work. It made the authors seems like genuine fans rather than sycophants, and all I can think is that this moment sticks out in my head. It did more than charm me, it disarmed me. See, folks, we're willing to have a laugh at this album and ourselves.
Unfortunately there weren't that many moments like that, and the few that are there make it obvious that there could have been more of that in this. I certainly don't regret reading this, and I did kinda fly through it in two or so days. That being said, while I found it fascinating, enlightening, with detailed research and a tight writing style, it lacked the balance in some of the other books. It also showed what it could have been and the only regret I have is that I didn't get more of those moments.
I'd love to read another of these guys books, though, either together or solo. Like I said, I saw some really great moments of potential and I'd give another book a try to see if that potential is followed through on in later writings.
I may need a break from these, though, so I'm finishing The Magician's Elephant before I delve into my next 33 1/3.