#90 – “Montana” (1999)

State Songs
L.K.: This is such a great song, but I’m really preaching to the choir by saying that. I don’t think anybody who likes any of the rest of TMBG’s stuff at all dislikes “Montana.
A.S.: Yeah, it’s one of those quintessential Linnell songs.  It has virtually everything you could ask for in a mid-tempo power pop song: a couple tremendous hooks, surprisingly gorgeous (at least by Linnell’s standards) harmonies. I guess that’s all you really need, and this song just nails it.
L.K.: The lyrics also have that uniquely Linnellian quality of sounding really silly at first, but then turning out to be really sad upon closer examination.
A.S.: The lyrics to this are seriously top five all-time Linnell lyrics.  I probably say that sort of thing a lot, but I really mean it this time.
L.K.: There are so many little things about this song that are just so, so perfect. The way it doesn’t end on the note you’d expect it to, for instance, giving the end of the song the feeling that it’s been cut off unexpectedly, which some interpret as implying that the narrator has just died.
A.S.: Yeah, I definitely get that impression too. The cold start to the song really grabs my attention too, especially with the accusatory “What are you staring at?”  There’s no build up or introduction or riff or anything, it just starts.
L.K.: It’s got a very epic-sounding intro, in a weird way.
A.S.: That ringing B major chord… and there are only four chords in the song too! The interesting thing though is that I never paid the song much mind until our friend and fellow TMBG fan, who we’ll refer to as N.S. included “Montana” on a short list of songs that he considered untouchably perfect.
L.K.: “Perfect” is a pretty impossible thing to judge, but I’d say this song at least comes a whole lot closer than most.
A.S.: I can’t contest that claim.  Maybe some of the other songs on the list, but not “Montana”. I’m asking N.S. right now and he said XTC’s “Ten Feet Tall” was another one on the list, which I respectfully disagree with (I’d vouch for “Easter Theatre”), but that’s not important right now.
L.K.: (If we were doing XTC Song-A-Day, “Easter Theatre” would just consist of a lot of “OH MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST SONG”)
A.S.: (Yeah, pretty much.  Every time I hear it I need to conduct a violent downbeat at the dramatic orchestral bridge section, for all those bass drum/trombone/whatever hits, but anyway…) The point is, that’s what finally prompted me to give the song a close listen and study the lyrics, and holy Lord. It’s just beautiful, the sad tale of a delusional, dying person, to whom the idea of Montana being a leg is some great revelation that finally gives him enough peace of mind to die.  It’s genius.  That Linnell accentuates the most nonsensical part of the song for the chorus only makes understanding the rest of the song more rewarding.  Those lyrics married to that triumphant, bright, major-key melody – it quite literally employs that sort-of Schubertian idea of dying in a major key.  Look what this fucking song makes me do!  It gets me writing hyperbolic, flowery descriptions of pop songs!
L.K.: It’s a very good song! And that leg in the chorus is the most mind-blowing leg ever! Also it’s pretty damn far up in Linnell’s vocal range too, if I recall correctly.
A.S.: Didn’t someone research Linnell’s vocal range, to determine that the harmony on “leg” is the highest note he’s hit on record?
L.K.:  I think it’s an F# or something? He’s not Flans; he isn’t really interested in trying to push his voice higher or lower than he can comfortably sing normally. But it’s pretty high for him.
A.S.: Yeah, it’s an F#.
L.K.: The brief falsetto backing part in “Letterbox” might be higher, but falsetto doesn’t really count anyway. Also it sounds pretty horrible. So yeah, in terms of actual functional vocal range, we’ll just go with F# as being the highest.
A.S.: Yeah, he’s belting that sucker out here.
L.K.: Another thing about “Montana” that I’d like to point out–the State Songs liner notes are great in general, but the line from this song’s description about the Governor and Anti-Governor is definitely a highlight. You know, I can’t believe this song was performed on Conan O’Brien either.
A.S.: Yeah, I’m watching that performance right now.
L.K.: That seems strange that a solo project of a guy from They Might Be Giants gets national exposure like that. Mono Puff never appeared on Conan!
A.S.: Well, it is also Conan.
L.K.: True, if anybody would have Linnell on, it would be Conan.
A.S.: Conan’s had a wonderful history of giving uncommercial artists exposure, and we also know he’s a fan of the Johns, if not TMBG’s music.
L.K.: Hey, they’ve been on his show more than any other band in history, so I’m pretty sure he must like their music to some degree too.
A.S.: Ooh, I didn’t know that. Then yeah, he’s a TMBG fan.
L.K.: They’ve been on at least 13 times, I think, though after their appearance in January of 2012, it might be 14 now.
A.S.: Wooooo.
L.K.: Quoting John Flansburgh: “TMBG have appeared on Conan more than ANY OTHER ROCK BAND. Ponder that, you much more successful bands!”
A.S.: But yeah, I can understand why Linnell would want to up the tempo for national TV performance, but honestly I prefer the slower studio version. Again, disproving my typical faster = better preference, but the slower tempo gives it this grand, regal kind of feel.
L.K.: There’s also Linnell’s solo performances of this song, with just him and his accordion. It’s such a good song that it holds up no matter what the instrumentation.
A.S.: Anything else on “Montana”?
L.K.: Nah, couldn’t think of a good dumb joke to make about the importance of not confusing this with the Zappa “Montana”.
A.S.: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.  Another great “Montana” song, but in terms of JL’s “Montana” in relation to other TMBG songs compared to FZ’s “Montana” in relation to his other songs, JL’s “Montana” wins.
One Response to “#90 – “Montana” (1999)”
  1. Nathan says:

    I guess I’d say I find this one a bit overrated, which isn’t to say it’s not a great song, just that there are other State Songs I like better.

    I believe Flans has a cat named The Governor, but whether there’s a cat named The Anti-Governor remains to be seen.

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