There’s a new Giant among us.
Quirk-rocker Jonathan Coulton has been anointed a spiritual godson of Brooklyn’s legendary They Might Be Giants — by no less a divine authority as Giant’s co-founder John Flansburgh, who produced Coulton’s new album, “Artificial Heart.”
The offspring couldn’t be more pleased.
“They Might Be Giants have been a big influence on me for years, in terms of songwriting but also in terms of spirit and attitude,” said Coulton, who is currently on tour with the Giants. “They’re such great entertainers, and everything they do is so much fun. I’ve always admired how they color outside the lines. And they have a particular talent for creating songs that are funny but also terribly sad, which I love.”
Flansburgh’s handiwork is apparent from the first notes of the first song, “Sticking It To Myself,” an up-tempo number that opens with a Giants-like saxophone and accordion riff and blisters through a tale of how success doesn’t ensure happiness.
The album also contains what may be the greatest pop song of 2011: “Je Suis Rick Springfield,” which imagines what 1980s singer Rick Springfield would say — in poor French — if he was trying to pick up women in a bar in Paris by reminding them of his album, “Working Class Dog” — his French is so bad that they don’t understand why a dog would be wearing a tie in the first place).
“Artificial Heart” — Coulton’s first full-band studio effort — is timed to raise the former computer programmer’s profile beyond geek rock into a roiling marketplace that has traditionally dismissed “funny” singers. Indeed, Rick Springfield sold a lot more records than Fountains of Wayne does.
“This interview is over,” Flansburgh said over prime rib hash at Keen’s Chophouse the other day (he paid). “I do not accept the word ‘quirky.’ ”
“The world is filled with attractive young singers who will be looking for other jobs in a few years because they take themselves so seriously to be anything but flavor of the month,” he said. “There are many acts, like Jonathan, that find a big audience even though some critics dismiss them.”
Audiences have certainly found Coulton, who is one of those creative types whose talent seeps into popular culture, yet never receives sufficient credit. If you know Coulton at all, it’s likely from his song “Still Alive,” which is played over the end credits of the video game “Portal.” Mock if you will, but that means that the song has been heard more times since 2007 than every song by the Rolling Stones — combined.
Another classic, “Code Monkey,” an unrequited love song set at a tech company, has been viewed by seven million people in at least two YouTube videos.
Coulton burst onto the “scene” (such as it is) during his incredible “Thing a Week” podcast for which he wrote and recorded an original song every week between September, 2005 and August, 2006 (albeit with four covers). The project featured musical sketches about dating, work, and family life that established Coulton as the poet of Modern Put-Upon Urban Man. The song about his new daughter, for example, was called “You Ruined Everything.” And a catchy song about being a loser provides the score in Coulton’s personal Game of Life: “Me, 0, Big Bad World, 1.”
The pinnacle, of course, was the now-legendary Bigfoot-Leonard Nimoy love song, “Under the Pines.” Neither Bigfoot nor the host of “In Search Of…” is mentioned by name in the Eagles-esque ballad, but the audience — geeks! — will get the joke long before the sad narrator sends his flame a “big bag of suet.”
And the message is universal: isn’t everyone in search of connecting with another being (preferably human)?
“People hear something funny in a song and then lump it in with funny songs, but my funny songs are not knock-knock jokes,” Coulton said. “A song like ‘Under the Pines’ is completely goofy, and still emotionally stirring enough to matter to someone. I am not anti-goofball. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing — music or writing a newspaper — it can have humor if it is honest.”
To buy “Artificial Heart,” visit www.jonathancoulton.com.