Talking Heads, Fear of Music

If you looked upon its diamond plate steel cover and thought this must be David Byrne's version of Metal Machine Music, you would be dreadfully wrong, for this album is far more coherent and much more developed than that aberrant Lou Reed headscratcher. Admittedly, starting off with the gibberish but funky "I Zimbra" (that's ee zimbra, sports fans) would not be a great way to dispel the comparison, but the laid-back and saucy "Mind" with its simmering changes in metre and keys ("what's the matter with you?" mutters an offhand Byrne between verses), the oblique "Paper" ("see if you can fit it on the paper" might apply to either Rolling Stone or your dog), the throwback "Cities" which could have easily come off one of their prior albums, the cheerfully ominous single "Life During Wartime" and the grim gritty solipsistic musings of "Memories Can't Wait" all make for a strong first side. I wish I could say as much for the second side, however: "Air" has a fun little beat but unless it's an obscured reference to smog I don't get the lyrics, and "Animals" and "Electric Guitar" are both paralysed by perverse rhythms and inscrutable, sometimes inaudible vocals. On the other hand, "Heaven"'s thoughtful depictions really make you ponder the actual mechanics of eternity (the melody doesn't really go anywhere, but that may be a musical commentary in itself), and the exceptional, ethereal production of "Drugs" coupled with its ambient musical backing and Byrne's almost primal shout feels like the most mind-altering musical acid trip you've ever taken. (Um, I'm told.) Virtually every track is listenable at least in some fashion, and while it certainly pushes the stylistic envelope in some places it never yields anything most ears would fear. In that sense the cover of this enjoyably adventurous album is inaccurate for both listener and musician, and that's probably exactly the effect the band intended. The CD reissue adds the previously unreleased "Dancing for Money" with the unintelligible vocals of Byrne in one channel and Brian Eno's on the other, plus alternate versions of "Life During Wartime," "Cities" and "Mind." As is typical for such bonus tracks, there's good reason why they weren't used. (Content: an S-bomb in "Animals.")