according to jerry harrison of the talking heads, a principle that shaped the production of the band’s early albums was that each one should be recorded in a different place, in a different way. this quest for each record to embody an “individual quality of sound” translated to a keen awareness of the personality of space, though always held in ambivalent relation with the cityscape that was both impersonal and sometimes unpredictable. a case in point is their 1979 effort, fear of music, recorded in chris frantz and tina weymouth’s rehearsal loft in long island city. while the band grew to love how things sounded there during rehearsals, it was a location that limited them to recording on sundays when truck noise was kept to a minimum.
it’s no wonder then that a track like “cities” would find its way into fear of music, especially considering the strains of paranoia that drive that album. although the song’s topic of finding that perfect city to live was probably inspired by the group’s own love for the city living, it proves to be a futile quest that only results in a more frantic disorientation. it’s something that’s captured best in the alternate version of the song, which replaces the misleading smooth intro of the album version with a jarring siren among a jumble of many other nervous sounds. and when david byrne says he’s figured out the good and bad points of each city, the balance he’s attempting to strike seems to be an illusive one: his exasperation shows as he intermittently admits “sometimes i’m a little freaked out” and increasing sounds like he really is.
disturbingly, in all its imperfections, the very idea of living in the city even with all its horrors is never challenged, just as the disciplined structure of the song mechanically keeps all these sentiments from straying too far. byrne, for one, never abandons his quest to find himself a city to live in, and never considers any alternatives. for me, as someone who’s lived in a city all his life and who’s never lived anywhere else, i can say i pretty much identify with all of that. – dan.