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Music / Fear of Music

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"There's a party in my mind, and I hope it never stops."
"Fear of Music is an album where all the discos are closed, the parties are over, bombs are falling from the air, the imagining of heaven has ceased to exist, and the animals are bad examples."

Fear of Music is the third album from Talking Heads, released in 1979 through Sire Records. 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.

Fear of Music was supported by three singles: "Life During Wartime (This Ain't No Party... This Ain't No Disco... This Ain't No Foolin' Around)", "I Zimbra", "Cities", and "Air" (the last of those being Japan-exclusive).


Side One

  1. "I Zimbra" (3:09)
  2. "Mind" (4:13)
  3. "Paper" (2:39)
  4. "Cities" (4:10)
  5. "Life During Wartime" (3:41)
  6. "Memories Can't Wait" (3:30)

Side Two

  1. "Air" (3:34)
  2. "Heaven" (4:01)
  3. "Animals" (3:30)
  4. "Electric Guitar" (3:03)
  5. "Drugs" (5:10)

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no tropin' around!:

  • Alternate Album Cover: The X-Ray image of Byrne from the inner sleeve was used for the longbox on early CD pressings.
  • 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.)
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Although, as noted below, the cover is Minimalistic Cover Art, it's also literally this. It was designed by Jerry Harrison, and the original album cover was embossed with a pattern resembling diamond-plate flooring because, according to David Byrne, Harrison thought that diamond-plate flooring was sexy. Some CD sleeves have reproduced the embossing.
  • 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: While "Heaven" has a clear end point, the abrupt opening of "Animals" right after gives the illusion of hard-cutting into the latter during the former's outro.
  • 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.
  • In the Style of: According to David Byrne, the lyrics of "Air" were born out of an attempt to mimic the mundane melodrama of The Threepenny Opera.
  • La Résistance: "Life During Wartime" is about people who at least see themselves as this.
  • "London, England" Syndrome: "Cities" humorously refers to Memphis as being "home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks" — Elvis Presley lived in Memphis, Tennessee while "the ancient Greeks" were of course in Memphis, Greece.
  • 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.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Life During Wartime", a bouncy song about guerrilla warfare.
  • 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 Brian Eno singing "Go ahead, 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.
  • Multiple Identity IDs: "Life During Wartime":
    I got three passports, a couple of visas
    You don't even know my real name
  • Mundane Made Awesome: "Paper" is an epic song about a piece of paper.
  • Music Is Politics: Invoked in "Electric Guitar", where the jury reaches the verdict that "someone controls electric guitar."
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Life During Wartime" and "Drugs". The single release of "Life During Wartime" slightly averts this, however, appending the parenthetical subtitle "(This Ain't No Party... This Ain't No Disco... This Ain't No Foolin' Around)."
  • Officially Shortened Title: Inverted with "Life During Wartime". The song's single release extends the title to "Life During Wartime (This Ain't No Party... This Ain't No Disco... This Ain't No Foolin' Around)", giving it the distinction of being one of the longest titles ever given to a single.
  • 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, Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues.
    • 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 lyric sheet, 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.
  • Re-Cut: 8-track releases rearrange the song order to accommodate a four-program format. On such versions, the tracklist is "I Zimbra", "Life During Wartime", "Memories Can't Wait", "Paper", "Cities", "Air", "Heaven", "Animals", "Electric Guitar", "Mind", and "Drugs".
  • Revisiting the Roots: The band recorded the album in the loft that Frantz, Weymouth, and Byrne shared when they first started the band.
  • Sampling: "Drugs" features tape manipulation of vocal samples.
  • 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
  • Shout-Out:
    • "I Zimbra" borrows its lyrics from the Dadaist poem "Gadji Beri Bimba" by Hugo Ball.
    • The technique in "Mind" where an Incredibly Long Note fades into a synthesizer drone appears to be inspired by a similar effect used in "Sheep" by Pink Floyd.
    • "Life During Wartime" namechecks two major punk/new wave venues in New York City at the time: Mudd Club and CBGB's, the latter of which was where Talking Heads played their first gigs.
  • Speaking Simlish: "I Zimbra", deliberately so.
  • Special Guest: King Crimson's Robert Fripp plays guitar on "I Zimbra". David Byrne would return the favor the following year by performing vocals on Fripp's solo song "Under Heavy Manners".
  • Uncommon Time: "Animals" boasts verses in 5/4 and choruses with three measures of 7/4, followed by one measure of 6/4. The intro and outro meanwhile are in standard 4/4.
  • War Is Hell: "Life During Wartime".
    The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
    I'm getting used to it now
    Lived in a brownstone, I lived in a ghetto,
    I've lived all over this town
    This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around
    No time for dancing, or lovey-dovey, I ain't got time for that now
  • The X of Y: Fear of Music