Fear of Music

Talking Heads

Sire, 1979

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/03/2007

Although many point to Remain in Light as the Talking Heads' pinnacle, Fear of Music may well be their greatest album achievement.

It is every bit as paranoid as its successor, but it is far more accessible. Instead of writing long songs that stuck to one groove, David Byrne and his group opt for shorter pieces with a hint of pop flair, albeit the new wave pop that would begin permeating radio everywhere in the early '80s. As usual, the Talking Heads were ahead of their time; only David Bowie also anticipated where music was headed, and along with the Heads was a big influence on that scene.

"Drugs won't change you / Religion won't change you / what's the matter with you? / I haven't got the faintest idea," Byrne croons on "Mind." Well, perhaps croons is too strong a word. Byrne doesn't sing as much as he does talk, like a detached observer in the corner of his mind, all bugged eyes and shaking hands and nervous gestures, much like Bowie's bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
Station to Station. Yet unlike that one, the Heads follow suit with off-kilter drums, all-over-the-fretboard bass and high guitar notes, neither chords nor solos. Fear of Music is an album for those adrenaline-filled fearful days, that moment where you're waiting for the police to walk up or the girlfriend to dump you or the inevitable talk from your parents when you've done something wrong.

That's not to say you can only enjoy this music when you're on the edge of a breakdown. "Paper" has an middle-period Beatles vibe in the guitar riff, a cross between John Lennon's early solo work and Revolver in sound. "Cities" is a bit punk in sound, and along with "Life During Wartime" strongly recalls the Clash's London Calling disc, which also came out in 1979.

Fans of King Crimson know that Adrian Belew played backup for Bowie and the Heads before joining in 1981, and he brought his style with him. Belew only appears on a couple of tracks, but the ones he's on are elevated by his frenetic playing; "I Zimbra," in particular, is a mix between his solos, African drumming (before Paul Simon ever thought of it), British-invasion guitar playing and multi-tracked psuedo-tribal vocals. It's a heady mix but far too short at three minutes; this song alone would serve as the blueprint for the entire Remain in Light album.

The album's sound is a bit thin at times -- Tina Weymouth's bass seems particularly buried -- making it a welcome change when everything is mixed together, as on "Memories Can't Wait" and "Air," the latter sounding like Tim Burton invaded a David Bowie track. Byrne sounds a bit too close to Bowie when he sings, which is maybe why he doesn't do it much here; of course, anyone who is a fan of Bowie's Berlin trilogy or Station to Station already knows about the Talking Heads.

Anyone else would do well to give this a shot - even at its most conventional ("Heaven", featuring the great line “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens,”) the band is not only ahead of its time but grew considerably in just a year. Calling this new waves meets punk meets British invasion rock would be simplifying it, as this is more inventive than most music was in 1979. Just be prepared to lie awake the rest of the night after you hear it, wary of any creaking noises or David Byrnes in your house.

Rating: B

User Rating: A

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© 2007 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sire, and is used for informational purposes only.