Review Summary: A post punk classic that helped define the upcoming decade of new wave.
Talking Heads’ first two albums were upbeat, anxiety filled post punk/funk albums. Both were very similar in that they had an immediate urgency to them –both musically and lyrically. David Byrne was paranoid and uptight about everything and he couldn’t wait to tell you all about it to the tune of a jittery guitar. Although there were slower, calmer songs here and there, the band seemed to be mainly focused on crafting high energy rock music. This all changed with the band's third album: Fear of Music
. With the help of Brian Eno, who was also on their previous album, Fear of Music
would be more aesthetically textured and lyrically poignant than then their previous work –paving the way for Remain in Light
It's fairly ironic for an album filled with music to be titled Fear of Music
. According to guitarist Jerry Harrison, he came up with the title because the band felt they were under a lot of pressure during the album’s sessions. Given the tone of the various songs on the album, this is fairly evident –especially the anthem of ironically fearing music: ”Electric Guitar.” “Electric Guitar” addresses censorship and media and how both can affect how people think. Lyrically, the sardonic and haunting “Heaven” surmises that “Heaven is a place nothing ever happens” while the dryly delivered “Mind” points out how no institution can change a person’s mind, but the character wishes they would. He even takes it further on “Animals,” where Byrne creates a character that fears that animals want to change his life and are laughing at him; this makes him sounds like a mental patient. The paranoia here clearly lies in the mistrust of institutions and ideas that are normally trusted by the public, rather than Talking Heads' previous themes of social anxiety. Byrne’s characters have changed from being socially awkward spasmodics to conspiracy theorists.
Musically, some of the songs are still erratic in a similar manner to their previous output, but most of the tracks slowly brood rather than burst out. With that said, the track “Cities” is arguably the most frantic thing Talking Heads ever wrote. Not only does it start with the sound of sirens, but the lyrics literally mention that he’s “a little freaked out.” Other songs, such as “Drugs” and the aforementioned “Heaven,” seem to really stretch themselves out for the sake of creating a cold baron vibe –which is done spotlessly. The opener, “I Zimbra,” is especially unique for the album due to it’s gibberish lyrics and African rhythm. Both cold spacey atmosphere and African influence would be a huge part of Remain in Light’s
sound, though it would not leave the franticness behind either. These ideas make Fear of Music
feel like the archetypal transitional album, which gives it such a strong feeling of experimentalism. At the same time, this gives the album a poppier texture, arguably making Fear of Music their first new wave album.
Talking Heads dabbled with new concepts and new sounds, without throwing out their old ones, causing Fear of Music
to feel like a mixed bag. This is not say that it feels like a compilation, since it also manages to be cohesive in theme as well as seamless in flow. There are no bad tracks or bad ideas present, only unique and thrilling post punk that helped define the upcoming decade of music.
Album Highlights: “I Zimbra”, “Cities”, “Heaven”, “Electric Guitar”