The Strange, Tense Power of Talking Heads’ ‘Fear of Music’ (via The Atlantic)

When Fear of Music was released, the group was on the verge of outgrowing local New York success and moving toward the arena-filling, ten piece musical funkanauts they would be circa 1984’s concert doc Stop Making Sense. The success of their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” and appearances on Saturday Night Live and American Bandstand had gained the group a wider audience, yet made them wary of selling out. This gave rise to a set of contradictions that would manifest even on Fear of Music‘s jacket: all black with raised worm-like shapes reminiscent of tire tread or, in Lethem’s view, a steel door that evokes both a “chilly authority” and “desire to be stroked.”

[Author Jonathan Lethem’s] slow approach [to the album] yields big, as it reveals a record composed not of disparate songs, like, say, a short-story collection, but a “concept album” in the most abstract yet perhaps truest sense. Fear of Music tells no narrative, but weaves together its bleak motifs in such a way that a resonance chamber forms, the pop music equivalent of the postmodern, fractured books of Italo Calvino. Parts that at first seem only distantly related start to feel of a piece the further one goes and the closer one looks. The majority of the song titles act as a table of contents of sort—”Mind,” “Paper,” “Cities,” “Air,” “Heaven,” “Animals,” “Electric Guitar,” “Drugs”—all riffing on themes of restlessness, dissolution, and instability. Crackpots, conspiracy theorists, criminals, and druggies emerge as characters, and a bleak landscape forms. Make no mistakes, it’s the apocalypse. … Read More

(via The Atlantic)

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