After two solid slick and upbeat records, Talking Heads were ready to change. Their third studio album, Fear of Music, is the second full-length album the band would record with the magnificent and supreme Brian Eno. You wouldn’t think their previous album, More Songs About Buildings and Food in 1978, was produced by Eno, since it doesn’t include that brilliant “Eno touch” to it, like seen on David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy and Devo’s debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!.
The band seeked out a bigger sound production and went deeper into their grooves. They presented more musical styles and were seen as a band that wanted to be taken serious artistically in style and not just seen as pioneers of new wave music. It is the Talking Heads at their most trimmed down production and in tone, texture, production values, titles and subject matter.
Talking Heads were seen as more versatile with this album, especially by encompassing West African polyrhythms, worldbeat, and even disco into the opening track, “I Zimbra.” The band used this song as a starting point and would of course dive deeper into this style on their next Eno-produced album, Remain in Light. They also recorded the beautifully sarcastic, “Heaven,” where frontman, David Byrne, sings in a poet manner about how Heaven is an illusion and nothing ever happens. The acoustic style this song is presented in is the opposite from what Talking Heads sound like – it sounds like an Eagles song.
The dance grooves Talking Heads were known for, especially on their debut, are still in place, it is however, they are more tense. And it’s not awkward at all, it is compatible and balanced, especially on the incredibly pushy and jittery cut “Cities.” It sounds like an intense disco number with the sharp and crunching riffs and driving bass and drums, which makes it easy to dance to. Simply, the song is about a man looking for a city to live in. Byrne’s lyrics are humorous and sarcastic, largely in the second verse, “Lot of rich people in Birmingham, lot of ghosts in a lot of houses, look over there! Dry ice factory. Good place to get some thinking done.” However later cuts on the album, Byrne’s lyrics are seen as more gloomy and dark.
The delicate “Air” is either about a person who is fearful and terrified of going outside. Or it is about a person who is cynical of the way society causes and reacts to pollution. With this, the lyrics, “Some people say not to worry about the air” could be aimed at a person scared of simply air or it could be a political statement. Whatever way, the song includes ghastly and creepy background vocals, but is mellow and mellifluous when compared to other tracks, like the spine-chilling “Memories Can’t Wait” and the deranged “Animals.” Nobody was recording music like “Life During Wartime” or “Mind” in 1979. With the strange sounds and effects on the final track, “Drugs,” Eno’s eccentricity in the studio is evident. The hard hooks and grooves all blend with the dark experimental claustrophobic sound Eno brings to the production studio.
For a transitional record, Fear of Music was way ahead of its time and the production still sounds fresh and existing to this day. Lyrically, Byrne is ultra-paranoid prasing the common aspects of everyday life, including paper, air, animals, and electric guitars.
It is the height of Talking Heads’ creativity, expressing how weird, quirky, mysterious, and fragmented they can be. Even though it is overlooked by its successor, it remains one of the greatest albums of all time.
Favorite tracks: ALL
Least favorite tracks: NONE
Listen to Talking Heads’ Fear of Music here.