Spinning off from Talking Heads in the early '80s, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth gave their parent band a run for its money as far as killer party bands went with Tom Tom Club. Their rock-solid rhythms and skeletal grooves were more concerned with getting down than getting artsy, and their limited discography yielded a few of the most timeless dance-rock tracks of all time. With the five-track EP Downtown Rockers, the band offers its first new studio material since 2000's mixed-bag The Good the Bad and the Funky. At first blush, the title track sets the listener up for disappointment. "Downtown Rockers" is a spoken list of key players from the gritty early days of New York's Lower East Side rock scene, with Frantz ominously uttering "The Ramones! Television! Suicide! Blondie!" and the like over a backdrop of decidedly unfunky hard rock guitars and borderline cheesy keyboard flourishes. Somewhere in the middle of the song, however, it stops feeling like an out-of-touch vie for a comeback and becomes genuinely fun. Its B-52's-like affectations on the singsongy chorus and just enough of that patented N.Y.C. mystery meld into an unexpectedly catchy party jam. The song goes on a little longer than the run-of-the-mill rehash from any given reunited '80s group, establishing the sense of groove that made Tom Tom Club brilliant to begin with. Even at odds with some dubious production, the song gets over, reminding us how "Genius of Love," arguably the band's best track, was little more than a similar list of inspiring musicians with a little more of a story to it. Things go uphill from there, with every song feeling more natural, relaxed, and groovy than the last. "Won't Give You Up" finds Weymouth's detached vocals floating somewhere over a pseudo-reggae groove, bursts of electronic space drums and spooky keyboards wrapping around the song's minimal rhythmic backbone. Like-minded newcomers Wild Belle make guest appearances as well, with Natalie Bergman adding slippery guest vocals to "You Make Me Rock and Roll" and her bandmate brother Elliot playing saxophone throughout the EP. Downtown Rockers can sound nostalgic at times, from the subject matter to the instrumentation and even the very essence of the songs. In this case, however, it's the best possible kind of nostalgia. Nothing about the band looking back on incredible times in a rich musical or personal history comes off as desperate or cloying here, primarily because Tom Tom Club still have the goods to produce irresistibly funky tunes. Their approach is basic and there are moments of yesteryear reflection, but (with the exception of a few too many crunchy guitars) almost everything on this EP fits perfectly in place with a band that nailed the vibe of a simple good time decades prior. Some things never change, and hopefully the inspired magic of Tom Tom Club and their ability to cultivate an atmosphere of instant celebration will remain one of those things.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas