David Byrne Robot A. Hull - Essay

Robot A. Hull

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Fear of Music] is the inevitable consequence of toying with psychosis. It's a work that is built, and also feeds, upon the paranoia of Fritz Lang's cinema, the violence of The Friends of Eddie Coyle and the terrorization of Mission: Impossible. This album lacks, and constantly avoids, the patriotism, sense of community and bubble gum-disco-psychedelic playfulness that make Talking Heads' first two albums such warm, albeit odd, friends. Like Randy Newman, Byrne has mastered the ironic backhand (i.e., "The Big Country", "Don't Worry About the Government"), but on Fear, songs like "Animals" and "Electric Guitar" are ironically banal….

The beauty of More Songs About Buildings and Food is that one can never figure out what the songs are exactly about (about aboutness, perhaps). The disappointment of Fear of Music is that one can immediately decode its aboutness: inertia, the noblink of the no wave, Eno Brain, artsy skool, obtoooose conceptualism. It isn't the forced, disjointed music on the album that bothers me …, but the whole frightening motivation behind it; that, at any moment, the words "helter skelter" could be carved into one's flesh, the overwhelming fear of every lurking shadow.

On a rock album, to put it simply, this is no fun. Perhaps a key to part of the record's difficulties can be heard on "Heaven,"… in which heaven is celebrated as empty existence, white-on-white, an idle void while the music (paradoxically?) transports the listener beyond the stratosphere to "A place where nothing ever happens." But as any real rock 'n' roller knows, heaven is a place where everything happens—Death Race 2000—with "White Light/White Heat" blasting full volume, pure ACTION, the kind that crazy-eyed Byrne perhaps only dreams about.

Robot A. Hull, "When Paranoia Strikes Deep," in Creem (© copyright 1979 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 11, No. 6, November, 1979, p. 51.