Tom Tom Club


While David Byrne was hanging out with Brian Eno tinkering with primordial sample culture for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, two of his Talking Heads bandmates wound up engaging with early hip-hop from a completely different angle. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz took their rhythm-section braintrust to Barbados for what might’ve seemed like a relatively low-stakes side project, but anybody who’s heard “Genius of Love” — or the Grandmaster Flash, Mariah Carey, and Latto permutations thereof — should be able to recognize just how long that deceptively simple burst of cheery schoolyard funk has been able to invoke good times across the decades. (It’s also the best “damn, music right now is exciting” namedropfest of its time, with its shout-outs to Sly and Robbie and Kurtis Blow and Bohannon, Bohannon, Bohannon, Bohannon.) And the album’s jittery, colorfully-animated art-funk machinations would find plenty of future echoes a couple decades later, not just in hip-hop but the whole indie-dance movement that emerged in a post-9/11 NYC. The shamelessly frivolous opener “Wordy Rappinghood” is even more lighthearted than “Genius of Love”; it feels like an Electric Company take on rap that’s too infatuated by linguistic play to worry about the politics of posing. And there’s a generational-bridge joke to be made somewhere off the title “Booming and Zooming,” given how much its jitter-dub 1981 zeitgeist could be heard in DFA’s 2007. But the giddy joy of its dancefloor high points are subverted across the whole of Tom Tom Club, and there’s a sense of unease beneath the surface when you dive into its deep cuts. It might be concealed through a language barrier à la the Francophonic Afrobeat jam session “L’Éléphant,” which translates into an animal fable about the horrors of violence (emphasized by the otherwise incongruous aggression of Adrian Belew’s feedback-distorted guitar). Or it might just waft through the undercurrents of deep cut “Lorelei,” which boasts a melodically airy yet mysteriously unnerved groove that merges Blondie’s ineffable self-aware glamour with the Slits’ serrated edge of anxiety.

Nate Patrin