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Subliminal, in an unnoticeable way
Important, and hard to see
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John Henry is the fifth studio album by They Might Be Giants, released in 1994 by Elektra Records. It was their first album recorded with a full backing band; at the insistence of Elektra's Susan Drew, the Johns has recruited Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu on bass guitar, Kurt Hoffman of The Ordinaires on keyboard and reeds, and Brian Doherty on drums (replacing Johnathan Feinberg, who had played with them on tour).

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Tracklist

  1. Subliminal (2:45)
  2. Snail Shell (3:20)
  3. Sleeping in the Flowers (4:30)
  4. Unrelated Thing (2:30)
  5. AKA Driver (3:14)
  6. I Should Be Allowed to Think (3:09)
  7. Extra Savoir-Faire (2:48)
  8. Why Must I Be Sad? (4:08)
  9. Spy (3:06)
  10. O, Do Not Forsake Me (2:30)
  11. No One Knows My Plan (2:37)
  12. Dirt Bike (3:05)
  13. Destination Moon (2:27)
  14. A Self Called Nowhere (3:22)
  15. Meet James Ensor (1:33)
  16. Thermostat (3:11)
  17. Window (1:00)
  18. Out Of Jail (2:38)
  19. Stomp Box (1:55)
  20. The End of the Tour (3:18)

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This Was the Vehicle, These Were the Tropes:

  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Meet James Ensor" features the lyrics "He lived with his mother and the torments of Christ", which is followed in the next verse by "He lived with his mother and repeated himself".
  • Drives Like Crazy: "AKA Driver" is narrated by a man who's "a full-day's drive away" from his destination and drives fast and recklessly to make it in time.
  • Epic Rocking: "Sleeping in the Flowers" was the longest song they'd released up to that point, and is still among the longest they've issued on a studio project. Still, it's only four-and-a-half minutes long.
  • Hollywood New England: Linnell sings "A Self Called Nowhere" in an exaggerated Boston accent.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "Extra Savoir-Faire"
  • In Name Only: "O, Do Not Forsake Me" is an odd case - since it's performed a cappella by vocal group Hudson Shad, no official members of TMBG appear on the studio recording. Flansburgh initially recorded a demo with his own vocals, but was dissatisfied with it and decided he'd rather hear it sung by someone with "a really profound, bassy voice"; Linnell had recently seen Hudson Shad perform live and was impressed, so he suggested having them sing it for the album.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "No One Knows My Plan" is a bouncy salsa-inspired number about a violent criminal plotting a prison break.
    • The similarly bright "Destination Moon" is about a mental patient who thinks he's an astronaut.
  • Madness Mantra: "Subliminal" ends with the Johns repeating the line "Stare into the subliminal for as long as you can" over and over... and then playing it again backwards for a bit.
  • New Sound Album: Their first album backed by a full band, which allowed them to augment their usual Genre Roulette with more fully-realized arrangements.
  • Overly Long Gag: The outro for "Spy" is a long string of guitar chords and comically-discordant brass notes.
  • Really 700 Years Old: "O, Do Not Foresake Me" is sung by a character who claims to be 1,000 years old.
  • Rhyming with Itself: "Spy" rhymes "ground" with "ground", and "me" with "me".
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "Subliminal" is about a man who starts seeing subliminal messages everywhere he goes after getting hit by a car.
  • Shaped Like Itself: In "A Self Called Nowhere"
    Standing in my yard
    Where they tore down the garage
    To make room for the torn-down garage
  • Shout-Out:
    • "I Should Be Allowed to Think" opens with a quote from Alan Ginsberg's "Howl": "I saw the best minds of my generation / Destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical"
    • "Why Must I Be Sad?" references several songs by Alice Cooper.
    • "No One Knows My Plan" references "the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy", referring to the allegory of the cave from Plato's The Republic.
    • The title line of "Snail Shell" is a nod to Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)".
    • "Pour the poison in my ear" from "Stomp Box" alludes to Hamlet.
  • Unreliable Narrator: John Linnell described the narrator of "I Should Be Allowed to Think" as such. He thinks he's a persecuted genius, but the truth is no one hears what he has to say because he's just not that interesting and no one is listening.
  • Villain Song: "No One Knows My Plan" is about a man in prison for some unspecified crime (but presumably a violent one, given the references to "shouting" and "shrieks of pain") plotting his escape.
  • WPUN: "The End of the Tour" mentions a radio station called WLSD. There actually is a WLSD radio in Virginia (oddly, a gospel music station).
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Though they say it plenty of times in the song, "NyQuil Driver" is officially known as "AKA Driver" and is the only song on the album without printed lyrics.
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