Talking Heads (1979)
Talking Heads were a bolt out of the blue. They played weird, acted weird, and looked weird – acting straight-laced and open-minded in a punk scene that had become all about histrionics and groupthink. But the weirdest thing of all is how accessible and melodic they were. They spearheaded an entirely new musical genre, revitalizing creative guitar-based music, and they’d never be better than their 1977-1980 incarnation. Fear Of Music clearly illustrates the ambiguous detachment and musical deconstruction of post-punk, while still being traditional and approachable enough to absolutely rule. It also foreshadows most modern dance music to a large degree, incorporating synths and ethnic percussion. It is conceptually driven in a very matter-of-fact, unique way, without being too pedantic or fantastical. The whole record casts a sheen of paranoia and dissatisfaction over its poetic analysis on a variety of topics, from “Paper” to “Cities” to “Drugs” and even “Air”. The band further demonstrates the high-tech sounds and effects that could be achieved in a recording studio, thanks to the creative techniques of Brian Eno and the endlessly idiosyncratic ideas of David Byrne. Though Eno had explored similar ground earlier, Byrne’s sympathetic sensibilities and outstanding songwriting provided an outlet for the duo to bring post-punk (or new wave, or whatever you call it) to the masses at last. This brand of the multifaceted genre was quite different from the Police’s much more commercial sound; it contained traces of world, funk and electronic music before they even considered those influences. The Eno/Byrne collaboration began on the Heads’ previous record, More Songs About Building And Food, with the breakout hit cover of “Take Me To the River”. This release saw them growing in notoriety and originality, with its own ultra-famous song, “Life During Wartime”. More than any other LP of the era, Fear Of Music withstands the scrutiny of formal and philosophical analysis just as well as it fares over the speakers of a disco or party. The fact that it’s actually quite dark and bizarre behind the crowd-pleasing tunes is just icing on the cake. In both its sonic and historic achievements, this is sort of a companion piece to its follow-up, Remain In Light. It’s hard to pinpoint which one innovates more; they’re both equally accomplished and distinctly different in several ways. Fear is a discrete, logical experience, whereas Light is trippy, messy and bugged-out beyond all description. Overall, FOM is a VERY unique, incredibly well-made record.
Key track: “Mind”
See also: Talking Heads: ’77 – Talking Heads (1977), More Songs About Buildings And Food – Talking Heads (1978), Chairs Missing – Wire (1978), Entertainment! – Gang Of Four (1979)