By Joel Francis
Watching the anti-quarantine protests and five o’clock follies, I am trying to take comfort in these words by Walt Whitman:
myself, I see that there are really no liars or lies
what are called lies are perfect returns.
Talking Heads – Fear of Music (1979) The Talking Heads’ third album is very much a transitional piece. You can hear some glimpses of where they are headed, into the full-blown, Brian Eno-assisted soundscapes that populate their next album, Remain in Light, but for the most part Fear of Music is spare. The song titles are just as lean. Most are one or two words, reading like a cryptic poem on the sticker placed on the pack of the album: “Mind,” Paper,” “Cities.” “Air,” “Heaven,” “Animals.” After the surprise success of “Take Me To The River” on their previous album, the Heads are intentionally running as far away from mainstream success as possible, exploring African rhythms and Ddaist nonsense on “I Zimbra,” feral primitivism on “Animals” and cinematic isolation on “Drugs.” “Cities” races with frantic paranoia and “Air” is laced with sinister synthesizers and processed vocals. Even the songs with strong melodies serve as warnings. “No time for dancing/or lovey dovey,” singer David Byrne proclaims on “Life During Wartime.” Later, “Heaven” is merely a place where nothing ever happens. The Talking Heads were never this stark – or dark – again. Which is why Fear of Music is my favorite Talking Heads album.
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014) The Radiohead frontman’s second solo album is more likely to rattle around in your head after a deep listen than spring from your lips like a Broadway melody. The music is moody and cerebral. And as I found out when I saw Thom Yorke in concert in the fall of 2019, surprisingly danceable and energetic when dialed up to 11. My favorite moments are when Yorke stretches out and lets the tracks hypnotize. “There Is No Ice (For My Drink)” is a glitchy wonderland. “The Mother Lode” manages to combine ambient music with dubstep. I’m not enough of a cryptologist to pretend to know what these songs are about, nor versed enough in EDM to compare this to other, similar pieces. What I can say is that Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is a solid listen that helps place Radiohead’s The King of Limbs in context.
INXS – Kick (1987) Nearly 25 years after the death of lead singer Michael Hutchence, the music of INXS remains ubiquitous. The Australian band’s pop prowess is undeniable, but they always had trouble crafting great albums around those magnificent singles. Kick, their sixth album, is the one time everything clicked. OK, it helps that five of the dozen tracks here were big hits, but the other seven are no slouches. Opening track “Guns in the Sky” plays like a set of expectations the band will need met before delivering the hits. It sets the table nicely for the great run of “New Sensation,” “Devil Inside” and “Need you Tonight.” The first half concludes with “The Loved One,” the only cover on the album. The second side includes another amazing run of “Never Tear Us Apart,” “Mystify” and the title song. You’ve heard these songs so many times I don’t need to describe them. Kick was so big that even the songs that weren’t singles ended up being recognizable. Knowing the songs’ omnipresence you may question needing to own the album. The answer is yes, of course you do. Because even though you’ve heard them a million times, once you get done playing Kick, you’re going to want to flip it over and play it again.
Berwanger – Exorcism Rock (2016) Singer, songwriter and guitarist Josh Berwanger has been a fixture on the Kansas City music scene since The Anniversary broke through in the late ‘90s. Fans missing that great band might find the next best thing with Exorcism Rock. Former bandmate Adrianne deLanda contributes backing vocals on two tracks and former Anniversary producer Doug Boehm is back behind the boards. But you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy the infectious, hook-heavy songs. It’s impossible not to smile and sing along. The lyrics get catty sometimes – “Heard you on the radio/Song’s bad/I thought I’d just let you know,” goes the chorus on the title track – but the music is always sunny. Stir up Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Get Up Kids, another local favorite, and you’re getting close. I saw Berwanger last fall and the songs sound even better in person. I can’t wait to hear them again once all this blows over.
Paul McCartney – Tug of War (1982) Yes, this is the album with “Ebony and Ivory,” and yes that song is awful. But despite that transgression, Tug of War is a great album. First of all, there’s another, even better Stevie Wonder collaboration, the funky “What’s That You’re Doing.” Rockabilly legend Carl Perkins pops up for another duet on “Get It.” Jazz bassist Stanley Clarke also appears on two tracks. The most notable collaborator is producer George Martin, who wrote a great orchestral accompaniment for the title song and a very Beatle-esque horn line to “Take It Away.” Martin also added sublime strings to the affecting “Here Today,” McCartney’s tribute to John Lennon. Despite all this star power, McCartney is always in the driver’s seat. Side two kicks off with the upbeat “Ballroom Dancing.” Later, “Wanderlust” adds another composition to McCartney’s awesome ballad songbook. By the time you get to “Ebony and Ivory,” almost hidden away as the last song on the album, it starts to make a little more sense in the context of the album. Tug of War is easily found in the sale racks at a cheap price and should be an easy purchase next time you see it.
Peter Tosh – Legalize It (1976) Reggae guitarist Peter Tosh had a lot to prove on Legalize It, his solo debut. After coming up in the Wailers, Tosh was eager to establish himself as more than Bob Marley’s sidekick. Although the title song is a strident political statement (with supporting cover art), the rest of the album is surprisingly playful. “Ketchy Shuby” is a light-hearted look at love and “Whatcha Gonna Do” manages to stay perky despite a narrative about running afoul of the law. Think of it as the reggae equivalent of “Here Comes the Judge.” The most heartfelt moments arrive in the middle of the album. “Why Must I Cry” is an emotional breakup song written with Bob Marley. The next song is an excellent Rastafarian hymn, “Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised).” Legalize It successfully established Tosh as a star in his own right and ranks among his best work.