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Fear of Everything
, April 12, 2001
This review is from: Fear of Music (Audio CD)
This album was recorded by the Talking Heads in Long Island City, NY in 1979 which led me to wonder how Brian Eno got to Queens -- did he take the 7 train to Queens Borough Plaza and then walk over? After all, the 7 train does appear in at least one Talking Heads video. Regardless, this album has a real live feel to it, like it was recorded in someone's living room and mixed to reproduce the live experience of a bass, guitar, drum and keyboard ensemble. It is the Heads at their most trimmed down production and in tone, texture, production values and subject matter, it reminds me of Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division which was also recorded that year. I know the Heads must have had an awareness of Joy Division since their song "The Overload" on Remain In Light (1980) is frighteningly close to JD's "I Remember Nothing." Besides, everyone on earth knew who Joy Division was by 1980.
At first blush, this album is weird, quirky, mysterious and fragmented. But closer examination reveals a pretty huge sense of humor. The title alone, Fear of Music, is hilarious and is a key to the sensibilities that run throughout the songs. David Byrne paints one portrait after another of phobia, fear of electric guiars, fear of animals, fear of air, fear of Heaven, fear of cities, fear of wartime, fear of paper. Fear of paper?
Fear of music is a very city oriented album. It is not an album of art rock by art school students like their first two albums. It is a garage band that has spaced out on too much surrealism, late-night television, science fiction movies and Dadaist poetry. They even use a Dadaist poem by Hugo Ball as the lyrics for "I Zimbra" which is written in pseudo-African words and chanted to hypnotic effect by the Heads to a point where you almost feel emotion coming from the meaningless words. "Mind" and "Paper" are simple themed songs evoking what is probably a metaphor for Self: "Hold the paper/Up to the Light/Some rays they pass right through!"
The two great classics of the album come back to back: "Life During Wartime" and "Cities." They are epic pre-Remain In Light songs that speak of fear and trembling more potently than any other Heads song either before or after. "Find a city/Find myself a city to live in" is evocative of the Mad Max nomad who doesn't fit in anywhere and probably doesn't even have a name. "Life During Wartime" was covered many times with a slightly different sound and in the great concert movie "Stop Making Sense" it even provides a backdrop to a mid-concert aeorbics dance session, but here it is pure and uncut, no doubt recorded moments after Byrne taught the tune to the band, and it shines as a dark, disaffected piece of science fiction poetry. "Burned all my notebooks/What good are notebooks/They won't help me survive/My chest is aching/burns like a furnace/The burning keeps me alive!"
"Memories Can't Wait" is a psychedelic masterpiece. "Air" makes breathing itself seem fearful. "Animals" is disturbing and may be a top of the hat to Pink Floyd that had released their "Animals" album the year before. "Heaven" is a beautiful tune but it even makes Heaven seem sinister. "Drugs" which ends the album is scary to listen to. Byrne jogged around the city block several times before recording his vocals, and you can hear the edge in his voice and the lack of breath as he struggles to get the words out. You can only hope he's acting.
The album made Rolling Stones Top 100 Albums of the last 20 years issue and deserves it. It is a dark testament to a bunch of paranoid musicians huddled in a Queens loft right before they became really, really famous. It is an album that should be studied by historians.
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