Rock 'n' roll is ALL about the kids, dude.
It really is nice having something decent to watch and listen to along with your little 'un. This isn't the two Johns' first foray into children's music. Their 2002 album No! is a lot of fun and while this collection (available as both cd and dvd) isn't quite as good, it still contains a lot of classic TMBG moments. Cut the boys some slack--when you're doing alphabet songs, you've got to stick to the script!
The video is a combination of letter and general alphabet songs with a variety of different visuals: live action, live action/video effects, marionation, and various animation styles. Linnell and Flansburgh host the show as sock puppets...with very anatomically correct hair, to boot.
Most of the tunes are miniatures, with a few slightly longer tunes thrown in, which are, of course, more interesting from an, erm, adult point of view, although some of the quickies are really cool too. I usually like John L's stuff a little more, but this collection's pretty much a saw-off. Flansburgh's best numbers are: "C Is For Conifers," a country-themed song in TMBG's encyclopedic tradition (e.g., "Mammals" and "James K. Polk"--the stuff that usually earns them the moniker "nerd rockers" from bulletheaded music critics); the lightly-funky "E Eats Everything," in which the indiscriminately piggy little character gets his comeuppance by meeting Z, which eats only Es, pac-man style; and "Pictures of Pandas Painting," which is a minor rugrat freakout featuring some unsettling slow-mo filmic animation. I have a suspicion that this may actually be a piss-take on the Super Furry Animals, as the animation looks like something I remember seeing on their Rings Around The World dvd, although my memory might be cheating me. I haven't been able to find any additional info about the animator.
Of Linnell's stuff, I like "I C U," another country tune the lyrics of which are composed entirely of individual letters. A lonely X sits at home on a rainy night wistfully watching a weather-girl X on tv, in true hurtin' style. There's also a letter-search track called "Can You Find It?" which sounds so conventionally adult TMBG, in Linnell's trademark folky style, that you realize that it's a fine line between TMBG and a kids' band on most days. Maybe that avoidance of sub-genre and subculture is what makes them so appealing.
I've got to try this dvd out on some other kids. My daughter's too young for the more involved stuff, although she appears to like the music and busy visuals just fine and was shaking her little booty more than once. I'm not sure how some of this material works on the cd version, as the visuals are directly tied to the music in many places. Adults who watch on their own--you know who you are--can skip over the alphabet-recitation tracks and other filler.
N.B. Knowing my geography, I wondered how the first track "Alphabet of Nations" was going to cope with the letter X, which is the first letter of Nowhereland. That was before I knew that there was an African country called West Xylophone. Wukka wukka.