This week, I chose to review one of my all-time favorite albums: Tom tom club by Tom Tom Club. This self-titled album marked the 1981 debut of the Tom Tom Club as their own band, as they were originally founded as a side project of the Talking Heads. Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz and his wife Tina Weymouth founded the band in 1980 while on hiatus with the Talking Heads. Weymouth, the lead singer of the Tom Tom Club, also served as bassist, while Frantz reprized his role as drummer. The Weymouth sisters also provided backing vocals.
Like the Talking Heads, the Tom Tom Club is considered a new wave group, although many songs on their debut album fall somewhere between new wave and post-disco. Although the original LP version of the album only consisted of eight tracks, the runtime is approximately 40 minutes. The average length of the songs on the album is between five and five and a half minutes, which is indicative of the dance culture of the early 1980s. Tom tom club (‘Wordy Rappinghood’ and ‘Genius of Love’) were also popular roller skating songs, according to my parents, both of which came of age by the time of the album’s release.
One quality across all the tracks on the album that makes this album one of my favorites is the use of syncope. An overwhelming number of tracks are noticeably offbeat, yet still manage to come together to create magnificent pieces of music that define the decade. Each song manages to make the most of the cacophony, shaping the displaced sounds, instruments and synthesizers into a cohesive and even album. Another interesting thing to note is that many melodies and sound effects extend between tracks, or appear somewhere on side A of the record, as well as side B.
Even the album cover of Tom tom club is an amalgam of absurd artistic choices that somehow fit together wonderfully. The album art features a group of crudely sketched cartoon characters, along with a ton of other inanimate objects and people unrelated to the group that is described as performing well. The music video for ‘Genius of Love’ brings a number of characters depicted on the album cover to life in a psychedelic and captivating visual manifestation of the song’s lyrics. The cohesion between the aesthetics of the album cover and the atmosphere of Tom tom club does wonders in terms of creating a clear image of the Tom Tom Club as a musical act.
Tom Tom Club, while a dance album, offers a variety of tempos throughout its 40 minute run. One of my favorite tracks, âLoreleiâ, is a slow, hypnotic melody that always offers a beat to dance to. Nothing on the album is too slow, and while most of the songs exceed the typical three to four minute length of modern music, none of them go on forever. Although the album is dated, it still makes great dance music and would put people on their feet at any party.
Despite my love for all the pieces on Tom tom club as individual tracks and stitches in the quilting of the album as a whole, there is no doubt that my favorite track is. ‘Genius of Love’ is one of my favorite songs of all time, so naturally it’s the cake for my favorite track on Tom Tom Club. Tom Tom Club’s best-known song, “Genius of Love,” revisits the still-cheesy synth sound of the 1980s, pairing the synthesizer with a cleverly crafted bass riff. The synth melody and bassline remain hand in hand throughout the song, which lasts five minutes and 34 seconds. From the first notes played, I’m up, ready to dance!
The lyrics to ‘Genius of Love’ tell the story of an imprisoned woman who longs to find her boyfriend and go out dancing and partying with him again. Aside from the verses that tell the central story, few other words make sense. There’s that unwarranted Japanese monologue halfway through the song, and of course, the track “Oops, your mom said”. The song also pays homage to the following iconic black musicians: Kurtis Blow, George Clinton, James Brown, Bob Marley, Bootsy Collins, Smokey Robinson, Sly and Robbie and Hamilton Bohannon. It’s the lack of meaning even behind most of the lyrics that makes ‘Genius of Love’ such a perfect dance tune! The song is also considered to be one of the most sampled pieces of music in hip-hop, having been sampled. It was, however, the excerpt from ‘Genius of Love’ in Mariah Carey’s ‘Fantasy’ that became the song’s most famous excerpt.
Tom Tom Club, without a doubt, gets a coveted five star rating. Like I said, this is one of my favorite albums, so I have to admit being a bit biased. However, I think this album is the epitome of post-disco music, which says a lot. When an album can be used to define a whole genre of music, something has been done right in the production process. Even without having lived in the 1980s, this album still makes me seething with nostalgia; that’s all the charm of this album. I wonder if dance music will ever reach the caliber of Tom tom club one more day; I can only hope so!
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