A History of Alternative Music One Album at a Time: 1977-2001: Album 1-25: “Fear of Music” by Talking Heads
I’ve chosen/solicited from friends the records for this project because I have no personal expertise with any of them and see this as an empty shelf of my own musical knowledge I’d like to fill. I don’t have a good explanation why this is. It just means for every record we look at here, there will be some long glance of inscrutability over what I didn’t know coming in. Born in 1973 with Nevermind dropping the first week of my freshman year of college, I am exactly of the right age to be proud member of the “Our Band Could Be Your Life” generation and for these records to be the formative sonic moments of my youth. And for some reason they just weren’t.
Some would become that later. Like much later, like owning property, years-in-the-workforce later. I’ve left those artists (The Cure, Depeche Mode) pretty much out of this project as I know their work pretty well.
In we go then with only what I hear and learn in the present. I’ve no memories or nostalgia. My only context is now. And with that….
I really liked “Fear of Music” (1977) the third studio album by Talking Heads and the only one I had never heard before. I was a “Remain-in-Light” and forward Talking Heads admirer up until this point. Of course I knew what “Psycho Killer” and any other jam of theirs that appears in the Stop Making Sense movie were. But my time with the band’s eight studio albums was back-heavy. Talking Heads as already-famous critical darlings knocking on the gates of the mainstream I knew. Talking Heads as a CBGBs mainstay achieving escape velocity? No.
Imagine my delight then when FOM kicks off the with Afrofunk/beat poetry mashup of “I Zimbra” (the lyrics are apparently nonsense on purpose) and basically holds this grove the whole record. Some songs are more feeling than substance (Side 2 can feel like enough material for 2 songs that producer Brian Eno and band stretched into 5). But consistent with a feeling I often get from learning about music from the African-diaspora, there’s a commitment to a groove, to pleasure even when the song aims to be deadly serious.
The best example is, of course, the immortal “Life During Wartime” a futuristic jab of cynicism of an America drunk on its own SOMA of consumerism and violence which still manages to be great fun to dance to. The jerky-yet-unfailing enthusiasm of David Byrne’s voice and the willingness to place Chris Franz’s percussion higher and louder in the mix keeps much of this album between the hips as well as the ears.
I’d gladly purchase this on vinyl (I am only in for two of the bands eight records on wax at present) while passing on the 33 1/3 book about it (Jonathan Letham was an asshole to me at a book festival many years ago and I’ve never forgiven him for it) but might need an argument from wiser minds on if I need the later records like “Naked.”
“Life During Wartime”
Up next ” “Jesus of Cool” by Nick Lowe.