The last time Sapphire Bullets played, it was 2003 in San Francisco, just one of three shows the band ever performed. Confidently billed as "The Only They Might Be Giants Cover Band That Matters," the Bullets blazed through a set of older TMBG material (including songs the original band no longer plays), all the while doing what no cover band should ever do—bad-mouthing the real band.
The members of Sapphire Bullets? John Flansburgh and John Linnell of They Might Be Giants.
Of course, this raises the question, what sort of band forms a taunting cover act of itself? I suppose it's the same type of band that has carved out a career completely lacking in compromise. A Grammy-winning band with hit singles and a catalog of universal acclaim, yet still an act that primarily exits in the "niche market" category of bands. When you look past the trashed hotel rooms, impregnated groupies, and gold plaques that adorn the clichéd halls of rock, They Might Be Giants might be one of the most important musical acts this country has had in the past 25 years. If not the greatest, at least the most unique, seeing as no band has maintained such a keen balance of success, creative control, and relevance.
The Brooklyn—a locale they repped long before it became the hipster farm it is today—duo of Flansburgh and Linnell are pioneers of the digital age, having been one of the first bands to utilize the internet (way back in '94), knock down walls between themselves and fans (their famous dial-a-song hotline), and sell their own digital catalog (something few bands, indie or major, still do to this day). After such a long career, the band is also well aware of their role in the pop music landscape.
Says Flansburgh, "We're in a strange place because we have been making albums for so long, every time we do something different, it gets a lot of notice, but every time we do the thing we do best, it's just like, 'another quality product.'" The "quality product" he speaks of is The Else, their latest release, one that is billed as a "return to form." As if the band ever had form to return to.
They've made records of children's songs, bouncy accordion pop, full-band rock, and an endless array of other styles, the majority of which fall outside the lines. The Else is really none of those things. It's surprisingly straightforward, or at least as direct as a record can be from a band whose path has veered so heavily over the past 25 years. No longer sounding like a duo, The Else is the product of the full They Might Be Giants band, plus the knob-twisting production skills of the Dust Brothers. "They Might Be Giants is a real 'earn as you learn' project," says Flansburgh. "When we first started, neither John nor I could really sing and play at the same time. If you've never done it, its actually kind of tricky, so we're ready to accept our 'most improved' award."
No need for awards, because after a quarter decade of making music, They Might Be Giants are as important as ever, despite what the Sapphire Bullets have to say about them.