Fear of Music
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2006, Volume 13, #3
Written by John Metzger
In hindsight, the Talking Headsí Fear of Music can be viewed as a transitional affair that bridged the gap dividing the distinctive, new wave-meets-R&B jitters of Talking Heads: 77 and More Songs about Buildings and Food from the funk-laced fury of Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues. It also happens to be the bandís most daunting and difficult album to embrace. The effort began invitingly with I Zimbra, the ensembleís early foray into Afro-Cuban polyrhythmic textures, though it quickly turned foreboding as an ominous chant infiltrated the fray. Scattered elsewhere were a few other highly accessible moments, such as the surreal serenity of Heaven or the strikingly conventional, punk-funk structure of Life During Wartime. The bulk of the collection, however, was fueled by the uncomfortable, quivering tension between its repetitive dance beats and David Byrneís overly anxious vocals.
From its paranoia-filled lyrics to its tightly-wound arrangements, the aptly titled Fear of Music perfectly captured the sound of a complete psychological breakdown. The songs themselves were given innocuously simplistic titles befitting an inmate at a psychiatric ward. In fact, seven of the 11 tracks were graced with only a single-word moniker ó Mind, Paper, and Drugs, among them. At first, the effect masked, and then it enhanced, the terrifying substance of Byrneís apprehensive ruminations, which expressed his beliefs that animals were laughing at him, his electric guitar wasnít to be trusted, and the air itself was causing him harm.
In illustrating Byrneís twitchy psychoses, the Talking Heads rekindled its relationship with producer Brian Eno, and unlike More Songs about Buildings and Food, this time, the partnership was more even-handed. In particular, Enoís eerily ambient influence is felt deeply on the nervous dissonance of Memories Canít Wait as well as on the unsettling distortion of Drugs, though nearly everything ó from the mechanical beat of Mind to the manic urgency of Life During Wartime to the harried Cities ó bore his mark. Still, it was the Talking Headsí frenetic energy that kept the material aloft.
Despite the array of aural effects that filtered through Fear of Music, however, its incarnation as a 5.1 surround sound DUALDISC isnít nearly as enveloping of the listener as one might expect it to be. Part of the problem is that remixing the effort proved to be fraught with difficulties because it originally was recorded with a remote truck at the loft in which Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth resided. The bandís lo-fi approach meant that the new version of the outing was destined to contain less dimensionality and depth than it otherwise might have, but the end result is that its subdued, but no less stellar, sonic spectrum augments the sensation of constrained claustrophobia that pervades endeavor. The CD side also contains alternate versions of Mind, Cities, and Life During Wartime as well as an unfinished, David Bowie-esque outtake titled Dancing for Money, while the DVD side features performances of Cities and I Zimbra that were taken from a 1980 installment of the German television show Rockpop. Undoubtedly, all of the extras, while enlightening, are geared towards avid collectors rather than casual fans, but this is wholly appropriate for an album that is as intensely challenging as Fear of Music.
Of Further Interest...
Fear of Music [DUALDISC] is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Brick [Box Set] is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box