Talking Heads’ “Fear Of Music” (1979)

Fat bass licks like Homer Simpson’s stomach heaving over his ill-fitting trousers; repetitious guitar that sticks in the mind like a toffee in the teeth; spoken/shouted vocals that sound like a nervous rallying cry; rhythms that are obviously not Western, but are equally too New York to be the real deal from Soweto.

Fear of Music is a rompy, loose and ramshackle yet tightly controlled piece, that track by track peels itself apart like a particularly light piece of baklava. Opener “I Zimbra” is the best thing on the album, a polyrhythmically dense slice of musical cake that at first sounds unwieldy but gives way with repeated listens into something playful, energetic, and fit to burst (and those dragged out bass grooves were pinched by !!! for their first album, I’m sure).

The rest of the album moves along like a boat on choppy waters. Anxiety abounds on “Mind”, as David Byrne frets palpably over the central refrain; “Paper” lets Jerry Harrison’s syrupy electric guitar licks lace a tight rhythm section; “Cities” explores the preppy preoccupations that would later become crystallized in Vampire Weekend’s first album; “Life During Wartime” is an invitation to a party that’s better than yours, but is also occurring at the end of the world; “Memories Can’t Wait” is a fret, a din, and sounds like Byrne listened to a bit too much Nick Cave; “Air” has a lovely proto-shoegaze melody, paired hushed and pitched female reverb vocals; “Heaven”, with its’ percussive led beat, sounds like something spiraling downwards, a coin pushed into a machine.

Then the album takes a left-turn into the incomprehensible with “Animals”, a quasi-slow-jam with “Electric Guitar”, and “Drugs” is a stark and minimalist closer, that stops short from diving headfirst into actual gloom. The tensions in the band at the time are manifest in how each musical element is distinct; yet it’s tempered just enough to work as a whole. Everyone gets a standout moment.

Put simply, the whole thing is ruddy fantastic. Loads is made of Byrne’s control over the band, and Eno’s hands-on production techniques, so lets take a moment to appreciate Tina Weymouth’s phenomenal bass-playing. She could breath life into anything; she could make a funeral march sound funky. But she’s no show-off; she understands when to take a step back and accommodate the rest of the song. A genius, and a consummate professional. All hail.

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