While Tom Tom Club began as a side project for Talking Heads’ rhythm section Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, it has become the couple’s main musical outlet since the demise of their former group. After four albums and an eight-year hiatus, the duo return with a new batch of musicians on The Good the Bad and the Funky.
Inspired by a new generation of turntablists and younger artists sampling their work (Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” incorporates the duo’s signature song “Genius of Love”), Tom Tom Club have decided to get back in the game. The press releases would have you believe that Tom Tom Club are tragically underrated innovators with whom the rest of the world is only now catching up. Critics, however, often say the band had one good album in them — the eponymous debut — and have been struggling to make a consistent record ever since.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. When the group debuted in 1981, hip-hop was a new genre that most white people didn’t know about, let alone perform. The fact that Weymouth and Frantz were turning the style on its head so early on by marrying it to melodic pop was a stunning achievement. The duo’s attempts to fuse world music, funk, and pop were also admirable, although their experiments paled in comparison to the groundbreaking work they did with Talking Heads.
On The Good the Bad and the Funky, Tom Tom Club don’t break much new ground sonically, but they have proven that they can write a consistently strong batch of songs. It’s still difficult to call this album “consistent”, however, because it incorporates several vocalists (Weymouth, Charles Pettigrew, Mystic Bowie, and Toots Hibbert) and jumps from “Genius of Love” rewrites (“Who Feelin’ It”), to funk (“She’s a Freak”), to dub (“Soul Fire”), to ballads (“Let There Be Love”). While all of the songs are strong, they don’t necessarily sound like they belong on the same album.
Still, there is a lot to like on The Good the Bad and the Funky. Charles Pettigrew has a lovely, soulful voice that makes “Holy Water” and “Let There Be Love” shine, while Weymouth uses her girlish vocals to maximum deadpan effect. While Tom Tom Club have recorded some misguided covers in the past, their stab at Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” here is compelling. Whereas the tension in Summer’s version came from hearing her sensual and very human moans over robotic beats, Tom Tom Club do the opposite, laying down warm, seductive grooves over which Weymouth sings in a near monotone.
There is also a decent Lee Perry cover sung by Mystic Bowie, but the originals are even better. The cynical logic of “Happiness Can’t Buy Money”, the simplistic funk statement “She’s a Freak”, and the otherworldly instrumental “Lesbians by the Lake” are all skewed and inspired. It doesn’t hold together terribly well, but taken as a collection of individual songs, The Good the Bad and the Funky lives up to its name.