Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Talking Heads - Fear of Music


Brain Eno certainly had a lot of influence on many bands in the 80's, and his imprint on the Talking Heads is no different. Fear of Music is miles away from the punkish Talking Heads: 77, as evidenced by the opener "I Zimbra" - a tribal tinged jam.

There are a lot of nuances in this record that expand on the template the Heads had already established, such as Byrne's often matter-of-fact delivery almost hushed below the music (like when Byrne says "when the rays pass through" in "Paper"), or the razer sharp guitar that acts more as percussion ("Cities").

This record certainly has a broad range of styles. From African/tribal influence ("I Zimbra") to dance ("Life During Wartime") to paranoia ("Memories Can't Wait," "Animals").

My favorites on the album run in order to end a spectacular side 1 - "Cities," "Life During Wartime," and "Memories Can't Wait" - one of the best three song sequences they would ever put together.

But sadly, this record isn't without its bland moments, and side 2 has most of them. On "Air" the band merely plods along doing very little of anything interesting, and while this isn't always the end of the road for some groups whose singers can carry a song on his own, Byrne is such a monotone singer that unless the band is doing something interesting, there just isn't much to hang onto. "Electric Guitar" is equally as uninteresting with its predictable and pedestrian instrumentation and vocal delivery.

The highlight of side 2 - "Animals" - is a paranoid and jerky song with Byrne passionately and frenetically singing/shouting about, well...animals, and how they're "setting a bad example" and "making a fool of us." Rarely has Byrne truly abandoned his typical delivery and really made me believe he's experiencing any emotion whatsoever - even if only fabricated emotion.

"Drugs" closes the album on a subdued and sparse note. If I were to apply an image to this song, it'd be somebody going through a maze and trying different doors, with all its starts and stops. It's definitely the right way to end an album about fear and paranoia.

All in all, this isn't the most consistent Talking Heads album out there. But it's highlights are some of the best work they've ever done. Fear of Music is a definite progression for the band, and the highlights make up for the subpar material.

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