Fear of Music (1979)
"It'll be over in a minute or two..."
Best Song: Life During Wartime, Electric Guitar, or Memories Can't Wait
Worst Song: Air
A major left-turn -- whereas the previous albums were pretty much nothing more than extraordinarily well-done, happy guitar-pop, this album seems to mark the point where Eno's vision exceeded the band's. The guitar interplay of old, while still certainly present, is nowhere near the foremost element of the Heads' sonic palette on Fear of Music. The album's cover is actually pretty indicative of its sound -- dark, stark, and a little creepy, something like a paranoid conspiracy theorist's Dark Side of the Moon. Echo effects abound throughout the LP, and Byrne's voice seems to weave itself in and around all sorts of sounds. His "raving maniac" shtick reaches an absolute peak here, and it fits -- just look at the title! He's afraid of everything: animals, cities, drugs, war, his own memories, the air, heaven, and even paper....yes, paper.
As silly as these lyrical ideas may seem, they actually work well in context; the continual theme of paranoia and fear works well to make all the songs fit together quite smoothly. Of course, this also leads to a mild case of the dreaded disease "Same-itis". One can only take so much of Byrne's caterwauling and Eno's eerie synth treatments. I suppose that's why I like the more unique tracks the best -- "Life During Wartime" is a deserved classic, a ridiculously fun dance groove with a wonderful guitar riff. Sure, David's ravings are as present as ever, but in context they seem almost empowering -- there's something wonderfully ironic about him warning victims of war that "this ain't no disco!" while singing what is essentially a New Wave-tinged disco song. I also love the GORGEOUS "Heaven", where the band sets aside their worries for a moment and focuses on creating one of the greatest ballads of the 70s. And it's not like the lyrics aren't interesting -- David humorously notes that a place as perfect as Heaven is "a place where nothing ever happens", and he even manages to bring romance into the whole situation. Of course, I'm not exactly sure what the "When this kiss is over..." section has to do with Heaven, but it does add a good deal of emotion and beauty to the song, so who am I to complain?
"Electric Guitar" is a track that no one seems to make sense of, featuring a hilariously fractured melody and some of the absolute strangest production I've ever heard from Eno. Admittedly, I hated it the first five or so times I gave it a listen, but now I think it's one of the album's greatest moments -- those synth blurbs are almost triumphant in their absurdity, and the "This is a criiiime....against the staaaage!" hook in the chorus is as catchy as an outfielder. I'm also fond of "Memories Can't Wait", which is a great deal more typical of the album than the other tracks I've mentioned as of yet. Hell, I'd say that "Memories" sums up Fear of Music better than any other song here -- great guitar riffs, INTENSE synths, downright frightening Eno effects ("I'm sleeping, I'm...flat on my BACK-back-back-back-back"), a wonderfully manic performance from Byrne ("I'M IN HERE...AAAAAAALLL THE TIIIIIME"), and one of the most anthemic endings I've ever heard in a Talking Heads song.
Yet another highlight is "Drugs", a relatively unaccessible track that's certainly worth getting into. Byrne's delivery is REALLY cool (I feel like I'm beating a dead horse by continually congratulating the man's vocal talents, but MAN, I love hearing him sing), but the real star of the show here is the production. Sampled voices pop in and out (ah, cue another Dark Side comparison), creepy keyboard lines slowly unfurl themselves, and Byrne's vocals echo, twist, and collide all over the place, leading to a track that's just as befuddling and addictive as its titular subject. There's also the album's opener "I Zimbra", the band's first ever world-beat experiment (and a major sign of things to come). David and the band scream a load of nonsense (literally -- the lyrics are all gibberish) over a boogieing bongo rhythm, manic bass lines, and a series of wonderfully interlocking guitar lines from Byrne, Jerry, and none other than guest guitarist Robert Fripp. It's an incredible groove, and a wonderfully energetic way to kick off the album.
Everything else is fairly interchangeable to me. I don't *hate* the rest of the songs, but with the exception of the OUTSTANDING piano-rocker "Cities", most of the other tracks seem to fall into background music territory fairly easily for me (I never feel guilty about skipping "Air" or "Paper", for example). Nevertheless, this is an extremely solid addition to the Heads pantheon, and one that I endorse heartily. It's not an easy listen at first (some listeners will definitely find it too cold and paranoid), and it's a somewhat low 12, but every decent collection of 70s music should have more than enough room for this.