One might easily think that the Tom Tom Club’s new EP, titled Downtown Rockers and featuring echt-cool 1974 photos of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth on the cover, is a nostalgic look at their halcyon days at CBGB. But Frantz and Weymouth aren’t ready to play the “remember-when” game quite yet.
“If people want to think [Downtown Rockers] is nostalgic, that’s fine,” Frantz recently told CoS. “It’s referring to a very important period in the history of rock and roll…but for us, those groups are just as important now as they were then, maybe even more so now.” Those groups include The Velvet Underground, Blondie, and of course, The Talking Heads, Frantz and Weymouth’s other band, all of whom Frantz name-drops on the title track in an apathetic tone that recalls those opiatic days of the late ’70s.
What prevents this record from becoming merely a trip down memory lane is its energetic freshness and its urgency, which sounds like that of the music Frantz and Weymouth made 30 years ago. And while Tom Tom Club was their disco dance outlet and a chance to escape David Byrne’s larger-than-life persona, the title track manages to incorporate more of that downtown sound. Crunchy distorted guitars and a punk attitude saturate the chorus, while the psychedelic warble of a guitar during the verses recalls early John Cale.
Given this band’s pedigree, the dance vibe is unsurprisingly pervasive. “Won’t Give You Up” is thick and soupy, capturing a slow P-Funk sound but also harkening back to “Houses in Motion” from Remain in Light. “Kissin’ Antonio” works off of mindless lyrics, but thankfully also a Latin-flavored groove featuring conga and cabasa, courtesy of guitarist Pablo Martin’s love of 1960s Latin boogaloo.
One incredibly refreshing relic of ’70s rock is the lack of extraneous electronic effects. You can hear every instrument clearly, even the Giorgio Morodor-esque keyboard patterns on “Love Tape”, a Pinker Tones cover that somehow simultaneously evokes ’70s disco and ’50s rock and roll. Frantz admitted that Booker T and the MGs acted as a “jumping off point” for the sound on this album, but those R&B masters taught them to leave plenty of air in between the notes. That intent comes through on “Won’t Give You Up”, where the space between Weymouth’s bass notes drips with libidinous relaxation.
Tom Tom Club aren’t trying to meet any expectations of the current dance music scene, which Frantz admits is “so homogenized and over-processed.” They’re just trying to make a good Tom Tom Club album. George Clinton once asked, “Who says a dance band can’t play rock music?” But Frantz doesn’t care much for such labels. “Well, we’re a party band. It doesn’t matter whether you rock or you dance.” With this EP, listeners will want to do both.
Essential Tracks: “Won’t Give You Up”, “Kissin’ Antonio”