In the history of recorded music there are a long series of recordings that simply forever stand the test of time for one reason or another.Sometimes they’re referred to as a bands “Sgt.Pepper”,in reference to the famous Beatles album but if it influences and inspires the entire creative scene in music for decades to come…….it goes beyond that cliched “classic” status.This would be one of those albums that fits easily into the latter. Throughout the 70’s the genres of funk and disco had embraced the concept of African inspired percussion was used in different ways in music.
But with the exception of a handful great funk bands such as Earth Wind & Fire and Mandrill not all of them completely realized the potential of this element in their music. During the late 70’s Fear of Music sessions the Talking Heads and Eno began integrating the concepts of polymeter and the musical concept of “communalism” into their music. It had always been boiling over since the beginning of their work with Eno. On this one the door broke all the way open.The addition of new musicians actually helped out:especially Adrian Belew and Jon Hassell.
Adrian’s “zoo guitar” style,using his axe to crow,growl and snarl in a number of different ways created the impression of this great musical…safari.This is one of the first Talking Heads albums where the whole is more important then the parts:the cycle of songs (running in no particular order) from “Born Under Punches”,”The Great Curve” and “Houses In Motion” in particular are this glossy,echoed,almost beyond modern electronic mix of percussive funk,avant garde new wave sounds and…..some things you just have to hear to believe.
The greatest thing about this album is it isn’t some self indulgence that alienates the listener;it is based on musical communalism and it invites you to join right in.The fact that most of the lyrics have to do with body parts,movement,conformity or just the sounds of life in general you cannot help but feeling welcomed by this album.”Crosseyed And Painless” is,flat out one of the funkiest thing the Heads’ ever recorded,not to mention the fact it’s funk/rock combination worked far better then I am sure even they expected.”Once In A Lifetime” is one place where everything that makes this album great comes together all in one.
It was David’s self proclaimed “preacher song” questioning without resolution the things in life we value.The pure liquid thump of the song itself is really appropriate when the lyrical focus shifts to water.The most captivating song here is “Seen And Not Seen”-it reminds the funk fan listening to this record that one of the elements that made the best and most genuine funk recordings were the sound of being more like a ritual then a mere R&B/pop song with rhythm out front.To a thumping beat David chants a lyric that speaks of all the false values people often put into their surface features (hello Michael Jackson?).
“Listening Wind” keeps up a similar concept but there is more of a “techno drone” to that one,which of course goes in perfectly with the closing “The Overload”,somewhat dirge-like in a way compared to the heavy rhythms of the rest of the album.On to the bonus cuts well….it’s nothing BUT rhythm,from the NASTAY electronics on “Fela’s Riff” to the heavy Afro-Funk of “Double Groove” these keep kicking out the jams,where “Unison” and “Right Start” contain the embryo of some of the regular albums most important songs.
The most important thing about this album is that everything from the sound to the approach is completely ageless;to the point where,if you were to put this album on for me today and I didn’t know who made it and when it was I would actually think it was brand new.When I first heard this album…some eight years ago in fact I have to admit it felt very…familiar to me to hear this music.I am sure many others will have the same experience with this. Everyone today from Franz Ferdinand and every polyrhythmic,funk based rock outing one can think of owes itself to this album in some way. But the intermixing of ancient communal musical polyrhythm and modern electro funk still finds it’s true flower on this thoroughly excellent collection of music.
Originally posted on May 27th,2009