Fear of Music is the third album from Talking Heads, released in 1979. It is their second of three albums produced by Brian Eno, and has an unusual recording history, rehearsals and many of the initial recording sessions having taken place at the loft apartment of married band members Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums) using The Record Plant's mobile recording truck. The album peaked at number 21 on Billboard's album chart, and was eventually certified gold (sales of over 500,000 copies) by the RIAA.
True to the title, critics noted a shift to a much darker tone both musically and lyrically on Fear of Music, influenced by frontman David Byrne suffering from burnout as a result of constant touring and performing; this consequently more anxious atmosphere would be amplified with the band's next album, Remain in Light.
The legacy of Fear of Music is great enough for the album to have an entire book dedicated to it, an entry in Bloomsbury Publishing's 33⅓ series written by Jonathan Lethem.
- "I Zimbra" (3:09)
- "Mind" (4:13)
- "Paper" (2:39)
- "Cities" (4:10)
- "Life During Wartime" (3:41)
- "Memories Can't Wait" (3:30)
- "Air" (3:34)
- "Heaven" (4:01)
- "Animals" (3:30)
- "Electric Guitar" (3:03)
- "Drugs" (5:10)
This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no tropin' around!:
- Breather Episode: "Heaven", a wistful song about, well, heaven, sandwiched in the middle of an otherwise dark, anxious-sounding album.
- Dada: "I Zimbra" sources its lyrics from "Gadji Beri Bimba", a dadaist poem by Hugo Ball, with some additional gibberish thrown in to fit the rhythm. To this day it's probably the best-known performance of the poem.
- Darker and Edgier: The musical and lyrical tone is a lot more tense and paranoid compared to the first two albums. On Talking Heads: 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food, the singer was needlessly anxious and uptight, and the point of many of the songs was to calm him down and reassure him that things would work out. On this album, the singer wants to be calmed down but the world is going to hell. Compare "Drugs" with its original incarnation, "Electricity", which can be heard on the CD version of The Name of this Band.... "Electricity" is a mid-tempo country-styled song; "Drugs" is sparse and nightmarish (at least until the point where Byrne laughs.)
- Drugs Are Bad: "Drugs", of course.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Paper", which is about a piece of paper.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: The subject of "Air".
- Fade In: "Cities" does this.
- Fade Out: Both "Cities" and "Life During Wartime" do this, making the stories of each song seem endless.
- Fading into the Next Song: "Heaven" —> "Animals"
- Feelies: Vinyl copies of the album cover were embossed in a pattern similar to industrial diamond-plated metal flooring. Incidentally, because of the difficulty involved with replicating this cover on CD releases (as the LP sleeve minus the embossing is just stark black with a green title logo), most tend to simply use a scan of a spare LP copy.
- In Medias Res: "Drugs" starts with the phrase "And all I see are little dots", suggesting that this is far from the start of the song's rambling narrative.
- La Résistance: "Life During Wartime" is about people who at least see themselves as this.
- Longest Song Goes Last: "Drugs", clocking in at 5:10.
- Lyrical Cold Open: Like "Found a Job" before it, "Electric Guitar" starts directly on the first vocal syllable.
- Madness Mantra: "Animals" ends with one, with David Byrne repeating a handful of phrases describing various perceived vices of the titular creatures ad nauseum, interspersed with another, looping recording of Byrne singing "laugh at me."
- Minimalistic Cover Art: The band name and album title are printed on a facsimile of tread plate flooring, embossed on the original LP cover.
- Mundane Afterlife: "Heaven" describes the titular realm as "a place where nothing ever happens;" in this case, it's treated with the utmost level of positivity, thanks to Byrne heavily preferring a stable lifestyle over the less predictable and exhausting environment of a touring band.
- Mundane Made Awesome: "Paper" is an epic song about a piece of paper.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Life During Wartime" and "Drugs".
- One-Word Title: A trope used by seven of the album's 11 songs: "Mind", "Paper", "Cities", "Air", "Heaven", "Animals", and "Drugs". The remaining four additionally deserve mention for their curtness, a stark contrast from the more long-winded nature of the band's previous song titles.
- Out-of-Genre Experience:
- "I Zimbra", an afrobeat track placed in the middle of what was, at the time, an overtly-Post-Punk oeuvre; Talking Heads would end up incorporating afrobeat into their next two albums.
- Though based on the more conventionally-written "Electricity", "Drugs" is less of an actual song and more of a soundscape piece, an unusual outlier even compared to Talking Heads' later output.
- Phobia: The album title, and also the record's overall theme.
- Precision F-Strike: David Byrne drops an instance of "shit" on "Animals", in stark contrast to his normally clean-mouthed lyrics; of course, it can easily sound like "sit" if the listener isn't paying attention to it. He also utters "shit" in the live performance of "Air" captured on The Name of This Band is Talking Heads (the s-bomb there is present in the studio album's liner notes, but is omitted from the actual studio recording).Animals think
They're pretty smart
Shit on the ground
See in the dark
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Drugs" appears to be based on the band members' negative experiences with recreational drugs in the past, which often left them feeling worse while high (on the occasions when they weren't simply left unfazed); the band's later post-breakup single "Lifetime Piling Up" in 1992 would allude to this again with the opening line of "I have tried marijuana, I get nervous every time."
- Record Producer: Brian Eno.
- Revisiting the Roots: The band recorded the album in the loft that Frantz, Weymouth, and Byrne shared when they first started the band.
- Sanity Slippage Song: Byrne's vocal becomes progressively unhinged during "Animals", culminating in him huffing off a growling, looping list of anti-animal beliefs.
- The Scapegoat: The eponymous creatures in "Animals", which itself acts as a satire on real-life scapegoating of social demographics.
- Scatting: "I Zimbra". In this case the Simlish was created by German Dadaist Hugo Ball.
- Serious Business:
- Tuning an electric guitar is both "a crime against the state" and "the meaning of life," to the point where it becomes the subject of a court trial.
- Animals are "never there when you need them".
- "Life During Wartime":This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around
- Speaking Simlish: "I Zimbra", deliberately so.
- Special Guest: Robert Fripp plays guitar on "I Zimbra".
- Variant Cover: The X-Ray image of Byrne from the inner sleeve was used for the longbox on early CD pressings.
- War Is Hell: "Life During Wartime".The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,I'm getting used to it nowLived in a brownstone, I lived in a ghetto,I've lived all over this townThis ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' aroundNo time for dancing, or lovey-dovey, I ain't got time for that now