Listening to some of Tom Tom Club’s classic hits, think ‘Genius of Love’ and ‘Wordy Rappinghood’, it’s hard to believe the band is now twenty years old. They were rapping when Tupac Shakur was still a young boy, and ‘Genius of Love’ has been sampled by everyone from Mariah Carey to Redman; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, pioneers of hip hop, even sampled it for their early track, ‘It’s Nasty’. Tom Tom Club, consisting of husband-and-wife duo Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, have been apart of much musical history in their lifetime, being two thirds of The Talking Heads, and forming Tom Tom Club at a time when disco was on it’s way out, and new wave and synth pop were coming to prominence.
Their sound, therefor, is a combination of all these styles, proving that these two are more than just a Talking Heads spin off. They have a unique sound and style that could never have been reflected within the control of David Byrne (save for a memorable two song performance in the Talking Head’s concert film ‘Stop Making Sense’). In the twenty years since they debuted this new sound, the musical landscape has almost come full circle – dance music has become mainstream, synths dominate pop music, and funk music is experiencing a revival. The sound that defined Tom Tom Club twenty years ago is en vogue again. Chris and Tina’s latest EP, ‘Downtown Rockers’, their first album of new material in over a decade, does not ignore that classic sound, but makes it more accessible for modern audiences.
The EP starts off with the title track, ‘Downtown Rockers’. Clearly influenced by the New York City new wave scene of the early late 70′s and early 80′s (think B-52′s), the song name drops many of the artists that frequented the famous CBGB’s in it’s early days (Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, to name a few…and yes, even the Talking Heads). The poppy synths and consistent bass draws memories of these artists, as it was supposed to, providing a fun and danceable introduction to the album.
The second song, ‘Won’t Give You Up’, slows down the pace and introduces a funky guitar riff that sounds straight out of the Talking Heads’ ‘Houses In Motion’. I hate to keep harping on the Talking Heads, as at this point, Tom Tom Club operates on it’s own merits, but this song evokes to funkiness that is seen in many Talking Heads favorites, yet much less raw; this song is decidedly Tom Tom Club with a slow, repetitive chorus and a smooth production. The next track, ‘You Make Me Rock and Roll’, continues the theme, with a slow, funky bass line that keeps the song moving.
‘Kissin’ Antonio’ evokes images of 1970′s Las Vegas, smooth and funky. The bass line is again predominant, allowing Tina’s vocals and the percussion section to fill in the blanks. This is pure soundtrack music, and is another example of Tom Tom Club bringing their disco-pop sound to modern audiences. ‘Sweets To The Sweet’ is almost a continuation of the previous song with a different melody; keeping the same style and substance with different effects. Notably, a little after half way through the song, a saxophone solo takes over and continues through the end of the song. The only proper adjective is ‘sexy’. The EP concludes with ‘Love Tape’, which is the most ‘new wave’ styled track on the album, surprisingly since the whole ‘Downtown Rockers’ title seems to be an ode to the New York’s new wave revolution of the 80′s.
‘Downtown Rockers’ is a lot like a reproduction of a vintage t-shirt. It’s perfect because it’s back in style, and this one is a lot more fresh than the original – but everyone knows its not the original classic. These funky, disco-like dance songs have a place in today’s musical landscape – the CD replicates those old sounds perfectly, giving them a slightly more modern edge. It’s definitely the Tom Tom Club that you know and love, it’s the same sound and energy, it’s only drawback is that there is no classic standout in the vein of ‘Genius of Love’ or ‘Wordy Rappinghood’. But, can you really blame them? This CD still is a whole lot of fun, and should brighten up your end of summer.