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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Tom Tom Club: Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom


1) Suboceana; 2) Shock The World; 3) Donʼt Say No; 4) Challenge Of The Love Warri­ors; 5) Femme Fatale; 6) Born For Love; 7) Broken Promises; 8) She Belongs To Me; 9) Little Eva; 10) Mighty Teardrop.

General verdict: One good song and a lot of bizarrely failing experiments — this is the "unfunny" antipode of the old Tom Tom Club, and how would it be possible to find a market for that?

Run a quirky idea into the ground — boom boom chi boom boom! — and what you get is this album, one that sounds almost like a parody on early Tom Tom Clun and next to which Naked begins to feel like an underrated masterpiece. You could sort of smell the trouble a-cominʼ when you saw one of the production credits go to Arthur Baker, the man who had made a career in the musical world largely by churning out dance remixes for Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and Hall & Oates, as well as mixing the tracks on Bob Dylanʼs Empire Burlesque. But even so you could never guess what kind of nasty surprises were waiting just around the corner.

There is one good track on this album, and that is ʽSuboceanaʼ — at the very least, Tina and Chris still retain their capacity for drawing us in with a catchy, enticing opener. Although its plastic percussion and plastic-funk guitars sound quite dated now, the song itself is an inoffensive and subtly mystical piece of funk-pop with a classic «mystery girl» delivery from Tina (which works even better in the company of the musical video, where she was appropriately dressed as a huge anthropomorphous jellyfish). If the entire album followed that suspenseful, sexy vibe, it could at least be seen as a legitimate, slightly inferior successor to the early Eighties vibe.

Unfortunately, even though not everything is completely hopeless, for most of its duration Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom is busy hopping from one bad idea to another. They are so grotesquely bad that they are actually worth listening to at least once. ʽChallenge Of The Love Warriorsʼ, for instance, sounds precisely like its title suggests: a lot of sexy puffing and panting accompanied by nothing but tribal African percussion — because, of course, what exactly is tribal African per­cussion supposed to arouse other than oneʼs primal instincts? ʽMighty Teardropʼ opens with a distorted guitar riff that largely apes Claptonʼs ʽCocaineʼ, except it is done in a much cheesier pop-metal fashion; and the entire song seems to be Tom Tom Clubʼs attempt at getting good with the «heavy pop» scene, which sort of goes against their entire agenda. Songs like ʽBorn For Loveʼ and ʽBroken Promisesʼ attempt to ape the older sound of Blondie and The Police, just with louder drums — going absolutely nowhere, because once Tom Tom Club loses touch with the kiddie, absurd, cartoonish style that had always been its greeting card, they lose any reason to exist. Who needs these songs if you had an entire decade of better artists making them?

But the worst is yet to come, and that is the decision to cover a couple of classics: Bob Dylanʼs ʽShe Belongs To Meʼ and The Velvet Undergroundʼs ʽFemme Fataleʼ. The former I can only explain through the Empire Burlesque connection, and the song does sound precisely the way it might have ended up had Bob written it in 1985 rather than 1965, except that the vocals are much more awful (Iʼm guessing that is Chris Frantz himself reciting the lyrics in full-on «bad actor» mode?). The latter is even more sorrowful, because not only does it feature Jerry Harrison and David Byrne on guitars, keyboards, and backing vocals — thus making it a legitimate Talking Heads recording in all but name — but even Lou Reed himself walks by to provide an extra guitar part, and itʼs a disaster: awful production, sloppy guitarwork, and a vocal performance by Tina that, once again, sounds more like one of the millions of unfortunate experiments on The Voice than a thoughtful take on a classic. If there is anything that the drawn out, goofy "heeeere she comes!..." at the beginning reminded me of, it was probably Laura Palmerʼs double-reversed voice track in The Black Lodge. Yes, «hilariously bad» is the ticket.

The problem is, there never was the slightest reason in the first place why a joke band like Tom Tom Club should even have considered covering these songs — or trying to take this whole business so much more seriously. Perhaps they were sensing that the days of Talking Heads were numbered, and that it was high time they started putting the Tom Tom Club twist on deeper and denser issues. Perhaps, having gone five years without a proper new album, they forgot what Tom Tom Club used to be all about, and decided to start anew. Whatever the reason, the result is misguided and pathetic. And I havenʼt even mentioned that there is not a single song that could be called outstanding for its rhythm section — a pretty harsh blow for a band consisting of a drum-bashing husband and a bass-pounding wife. Plenty of chi to go around — definitely not enough boom boom to make a difference.


  1. Huh, ok. I like this one a lot better than Close to the Bone, personally. (Not that this is on par with the debut, which is obviously their raison d'etre.) But I'm listening to the 1989 version of this album, which replaces a couple of the tracks.

    And I actually do like the cover of "Femme Fatale" here - probably *because* the entire production sounds like it's "dead [...] wrapped in plastic," not in spite of it.

  2. Taking a break, George?

  3. He said he should be back in ten days or so, work permitting.