Live at the Clubhouse – Tom Tom Club
Tip Top Music 80119-01072-2
The funk-rooted Tom Tom Club stands on the firm foundation of its rhythm
section, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, both formerly of the Talking Heads.
The on-again/off-again project began in 1981 with a pair of rap-inflected
hits on the Island Records label. "Wordy Rappinghood" set things rolling,
but it was "Genius of Love" that grabbed hold. Recorded in Jamaica, the
track, which everyone knows though perhaps not by name, breathes sunny
island breaths. "Genius" has been sampled by a frightening mnge of
artists, from Mariah Carey to Ziggy Marley to Grand Master Flash to the
Black-Eyed Peas. Its simple, head-bobbing rhythmic underpinnings and
robotic harmonies are augmented by guitar and keyboard tones that are
quintessentially early 80s.
It all adds up to a distinctive sound that remains virtually intact on "Live
at the Clubhouse", a double disc retrospective recorded live in the studio
with an appreciative if small audience. The octet's composition reflects the
band's emphasis clearly, featuring seven singing members and six who
contribute percussion. Rhythm is the key, with nearly all tracks forming
around spare, repetitive structures that expand at the many rhythmatists
fall in. Weymouth's vocals and the female harmonies are clean, clear,
precise, and sometimes sterile. They seem stripped of all flash and
emotion, and detached. Imagine the harmonies of the eerie girls from Robert
Palmer's videos…now raise that an octave…that's close enough. Even the
"la la" and "ooh ooh" feel distant, and yet there is a childlike quality to
her voice, a sunny timbre under the lifeless veneer that is oddly
Sometimes the mix works; sometimes it doesn't. The first minute of disc one
tells nearly the whole story. A polyrhythmic groove is quickly joined by
the simplest of
bass lines, and the guitar begins to soar above the opening bars of
"Suboceana". If you can handle the guitar tone, you are in for a helluva
ride. If not, there is still plenty to enjoy. As for misses, "As Above, So
Below" entrenches itself in a down groove that has little to recommend it.
"Take Me to the River" features the Deep Banana Blackout Horns well, but
even Weymouth's front-mixed bass can't save this one from the male vocalist,
who doesn't measure up to David Byrne, much less the Reverend.
Despite any missteps, Weymouth and Frantz always click, slapping out rock
solid grooves that simply don't miss. Some of the choices in their
reworking of Phish's "Sand" are questionable (namely the keyboard and the
flat-lined vocals), but you can't argue with the groove. "The Man With the
4-Way Hips" opens with ill-advised references to Parliament's "Chocolate
City", but the bass line nearly saves what is otherwise an unremarkable
Things predictably click on "Genius of Love", which is frankly irresistible.
"Who Feelin' It" captures the same blithe spirit, name-checking everyone
from James to Al to
Otis to Lee Perry to Fela Kuti to Master P as it bounces along. Meanwhile,
"Time to Bounce" resides in deeper shadows but survives thanks to some of
Mystic Bowie's strongest reggae flow.
Tom Tom Club celebrates its roots, whether through the name dropping, the
direct covers, or the appropriated segments, but they filter these
influences through their own window, often to (intentionally?) humorous
effect. Their cover of Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" maintains the
uplifting groove of the original, but it is anything but sexy. Tom Tom Club
is funk and not funk. While it owes clear debts to its funky forerunners,
the group reworks those influences into something more restrained, detached,
decidedly less funky, and wholly their own.