Review Summary: Overshadowed by its successor, but the perfect album.
Talking Heads had produced two studio albums so far, these ones being 'Talking Heads: 77' and 'More Songs About Buildings and Food'. Both of these albums had a huge association with punk, largely due to the fact that another term for the music Talking Heads were producing had not really been invented yet (at least, not until their manager came up with the term 'new wave', which heavily caught on). '77' was wild and eccentric - not the typical punk album at all, for punk was more considered an attitude, and that attitude was one of which Talking Heads didn't really seem to carry with them. 'More Songs About Buildings and Food' still had the essence of their debut, but combined it with a much funkier sound, and frontman David Byrne was further tapping into his different deliveries, quirks and techniques as a vocalist. Of course, Brian Eno also swooped in to lend a hand, and his guidance was one that would become crucial in terms of the band and the music they would go on to produce.
Out of the two albums they'd released, both had done reasonably decent, but Talking Heads craved something more. There was a real fire in the belly, a real drive, and they were determined to keep creating. They'd had hits like 'Psycho Killer' from '77', and their cover of 'Take Me to the River' from 'More Songs About Buildings and Food' had been very successful. But to Talking Heads, this wasn't so great. They dreaded the idea of becoming a singles band or becoming overly commercialised, and it became evident to them that they needed to up their game in terms of albums.
This is where Fear of Music comes in.
Now, one might start to realise the value of this album's title. 'Fear of Music' isn't a fear of listening to music. In fact, the title refers to the band's attitude at the time - they had a fear of creating music. It's clear to see why from what was mentioned earlier on. As such, this album comes from a place of genuine anxiety, and most would consider it to be their darkest album to date. The album cover perfectly represents how the music sounds - dark, tense, schizophrenic, and most importantly, experimental.
At this point, Talking Heads were really starting to test the boundaries of music and push at their confines. Dangerous territory? Perhaps. But it's the direction they felt they needed to go next, and what a bold movement it was.
'I Zimbra' is the perfect opener to an album. It's light and fun, but not to the point where it defeats the tonality and atmosphere that the album later immerses you in. In fact, the track foreshadows the presence of their next album, 'Remain in Light', as it sounds quite like something they would go on to create within that period and undoubtedly had some influence on their direction. The track is accessible, yet unique.
"We also knew that our next album would be a further exploration of what we had begun with "I Zimbra".
- Jerry Harrison, 1997
'Mind' is considerably repetitive, sticking to the same sort of pattern throughout the track, though everything going on instrumentally is an utter joy to listen to. Byrne's vocals are as weird and odd as they are unique, and the vocal deliveries are refreshing. The lyricism is simplistic and fits a multitude of scenarios. When the guitar comes in during the outro, it's just an incredible sense of joy - it's perfectly placed, matches the track's tonality and feels overall quite rewarding to listen to.
To be honest, I think 'Paper' is quite a weak track for a lot of people. There's not really much that holds the listener's interest, but it keeps the momentum of the album flowing and doesn't disrupt it by any means. It's a good example of filler, for it still works in context of the album and is just there to keep things moving. As well as this, it's a short track, so it's not by any means something that drags or loses a listener.
Now, onto 'Cities'. This track is quite underrated within the discography of Talking Heads; hell, it might be one of the most underrated tracks in terms of just this album. Like 'Mind', the lyrics are of a simplistic nature, and it's a fun, almost silly kind of track. It definitely doesn't take it too seriously, but the track is so catchy and interesting that the fun nature of it doesn't disturb anything. It's fast-paced, doesn't drag, and it's great fun to listen to.
'Life During Wartime' is what I'd consider to be a fan favourite, as it's considerably fun to watch live. However, it's also an amazing track in terms of its studio version, and it's perfectly placed in the respective track listing. The lyrics are, as David Byrne recalls, not from a political point of view. They are more so from the perspective of someone fighting during said wartime, and though the nature of it may sound depressing and horrific, the track is, like others, fun and danceable. Of course, this may sound like a track that comes off as insensitive, but with the way its conveyed, that's not really the case.
'Memories Can't Wait' is really interesting, and that's mainly due to the fact that it's got what I would consider to be one of the most bombastic and intense sounds I've ever heard Talking Heads produce. Everything about it sounds like it could be used for James Bond, and it's quite an eerie track that just gets better the more it progresses.
Continuing on, it's worth mentioning how 'Memories Can't Wait' is possibly connected to 'Heaven'. The guitar sounds quite similar, and some of the lyrics match up to the point where it doesn't feel too much like a coincidence. To me, 'Memories Can't Wait' feels like a manic take on the more melancholy track - 'Heaven'.
"There's a party in my mind / And I hope it never stops / There's a party up there all the time / And they'll party till they drop"
- Memories Can't Wait
"There is a party, everyone is there / Everyone will leave at exactly the same time"
"Other people can go home / Everybody else can split / I'll be here all the time / No, I can never quit"
- Memories Can't Wait
Moving on, 'Air' is another track with an eerie atmosphere, as well as eerie lyricism that doesn't seem too understandable without reading into it a bit. The track structure stays relatively simple and doesn't really go anywhere, but it's a neat track that, again, fits in context of the album and carries the sound and overall environment. As well as this, the track is a pretty average length, but doesn't feel lengthy at all, and is practically over in the blink of an eye.
'Heaven' is just a really stunning song. It's beautiful, yet at the same time, it's oh so sad. In fact, it feels almost sarcastic, in the same way that Morrissey's lyricism in The Smiths feels sarcastic. The track gives off very cynical undertones, and works for just about any scenario - relaxing, crying, sleeping, screaming. There's never enough praise anybody can give this track, for it's ridiculously pretty.
For many, 'Animals' is one of the best tracks on the album, and rightfully so. This song is paranoid, frantic, wide-eyed and fragile. Byrne's vocals make him sound like he's truly emotionally invested in the topic at hand, and it's intense until the outro kicks in, which is, again, fun and silly, yet gives such a big sense of relief and joy to the listener.
Quite honestly, 'Electric Guitar' used to be a favourite of mine, but has shrunk considerably. It is catchy and has a nice pace to it, with lyrics that are interesting to look over and hear presented, but despite that, it does feel like one of the weaker filler tracks. There's not really much to it. It's a fine track, but really pales in comparison to the rest of the album and their discography as a whole.
And here we are, at the closer track - 'Drugs'. This track will forever be one of my favourite Talking Heads songs. The sound palette on this track is simply unlike anything I've ever heard before, especially taking into account the time it was produced and created. The lyrics describe a bad experience with taking drugs, and the way they're written demonstrates that simplicity is key - Byrne doesn't write all fancy, but rather, says it how it is, making it a lot easier to connect with and understand. However, it still has a cryptic and complex nature to it. Again, he sounds fragile and paranoid, the end product being such a joyous listen. It may sound pretentious, but I'll say it - this track is more like an experience than an actual song, and that experience is a riveting one.
Before wrapping this up, I'd like to bring up 'Dancing for Money', an unfinished outtake that made it onto the deluxe version. This track isn't by any means highly regarded, and it's not a track many people particularly care for. Taking this into account, it's still really fascinating to see the dynamic between Byrne and Eno come into play. The track is really unique and feels like one of the snippets of instrumentals, backing vocals and otherwise that would be included on the likes of 'Remain in Light'.
Overall, this album is insanely brilliant. Knowing that this came out in 1979 baffles me, because 'Fear of Music' is truly one of a kind. None of the words stated here will do any of it justice, as it's just so musically dense and unique, especially when you keep in mind the time this came out. Talking Heads proved their worth within the world of music and art time and time again, and this album is the perfect example as to why.