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Oingo Boingo

Crossover Prog

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Oingo Boingo Nothing To Fear album cover
4.37 | 24 ratings | 4 reviews | 42% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1982

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Grey Matter (5:51)
2. Insects (3:03)
3. Private Life (3:17)
4. Wild Sex (In The Working Class) (4:07)
5. Running On A Treadmill (3:21)
6. Whole Day Off (3:56)
7. Nothing To Fear (But Fear Itself) (3:54)
8. Why'd We Come (3:57)
9. Islands (4:40)
10. Reptiles And Samurai (5:19)

Total Time 41:25

Line-up / Musicians

- Danny Elfman / lead vocals, rhythm guitar, composer
- Steve Bartek / lead guitar, backing vocals, horn arrangements
- Richard Gibbs / keyboards, synths, backing vocals
- Leon Schniederman / alto & baritone saxes
- Sam "Sluggo" Phipps / tenor & soprano saxes
- Dale Turner / trumpet, trombone
- Kerry Hatch / bass, vocals
- Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez / drums, percussion

Releases information

Artwork: Georganne Deen

LP A&M Records - SP-4903 (1982, US)

CD A&M Records - CD 3251 (1987, US)
CD A&M Records - CD 3251 (2005, US)

Thanks to Evolver for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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OINGO BOINGO Nothing To Fear ratings distribution

(24 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(42%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(33%)
Good, but non-essential (12%)
Collectors/fans only (4%)
Poor. Only for completionists (8%)

OINGO BOINGO Nothing To Fear reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Oingo Boingo's second album matches the first in intensity, and perhaps even improves on it by eliminating most of the ska and reggae references that permeated the debut.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind ska, but it often seems like an all too easy way to make music sound exotic. Danny Elfman doesn't need to rely on that. His tuned percussion, often played on real instruments, but sometimes beefed up with synth support, is just amazing. The opener, Grey Matter features dual maribas (a treat if you were fortunate enough to catch this group live) that work into a delicious frenzy.

The horns are spectacular as well. There are some extremely hot sax solos by Leon Schniederman and Sam Phipps that belie the band's jazzier beginnings (in a circus troupe, of all things).

Elfman's songs here are some of his best, whether he's singing about dancing on insects (Insects), the edge of insanity (Private Life, Whole Day Off, sex, or just plain weirdness.

And the arrangements give the whole thing a proggy edge that makes this a fine album for the discerning collector.

Review by Necrotica
4 stars Some bands are just too diverse to be pigeonholed in certain scenes and musical trends. The 90s rock band Morphine, for instance, is considered an alternative rock act; however, their saxophone-based jazz fusion sound and an almost surf rock-ish vibe would suggest other influences that extend beyond their alternative label. Then you've got Alice in Chains, who bring sludge metal, doom metal, classic rock, and blues to their grunge repertoire to form a unique sound that pleases numerous audiences. Well, if any band were to join this list of artists who thought outside their scenes, it would be Oingo Boingo. Fronted by composer and vocalist/guitarist Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo were frequently labeled as a new wave band for their fast punk-influenced rhythms and heavy use of synthesizers, as well as their generally quirky attitude. However, simply limiting them to this genre would be downplaying just how unique they were. Progressive rock website Prog Archives lists the band as "crossover prog," and labeling the group as progressive or experimental indeed seems more apt than just "new wave." The band combined classic punk, new wave, progressive rock, ska, jazz, alternative rock, and a multitude of other genres to create something way different from the pack, and this fact only makes it more understandable that Danny Elfman would continue to experiment heavily in his film scores.

Only a Lad, while making only small waves commercially when it came out, served well to lay the groundwork for what to expect from the band. Fast tempos, high energy, lots of horns, lots of synthesizers, eccentric singing from Elfman, and elements of jazz and classical music were all part of the Oingo Boingo experience; luckily, the album ended up finding an audience in the Southern California pop/rock scene. Nothing to Fear, the band's sophomore effort, pretty much expands upon Only a Lad stylistically without making really drastic changes. Then again, with how odd the band already were, they didn't exactly need to change too much. There is, however, more of an emphasis on guitar distortion and overall heaviness, which would please fans of the band's more punk-inspired work. Songs like "Insects" and the title track have some damn low and heavy guitar riffs that contrast the loud, bombastic horns very nicely. "Insects" in particular finds a fantastic balance between the two; a few times within the track, you have a low metallic riff from Elfman and lead guitarist Steve Bartek while the trumpeter and two saxophonists play a really nifty Middle-Eastern melody over the top of it. Stuff like that provides neat nuances to keep you frequently coming back to the album, and the horn playing in general is usually what adds those nuances when combined with the rhythm section and vocals.

Speaking of vocals, Danny Elfman gives perhaps his best overall vocal performance here. He suits every mood his compositions throw at him, from creepy to quirky to sad to gleeful. His eccentric performances give a ton of personality to the songwriting, like mixing slightly whispered and raspy mid-range vocals with low chants in opener "Grey Matter" or showing a bit more lightheartedness and restraint with the bizarre mid-tempo number "Whole Day Off." He's definitely a versatile performer, just as he's a versatile songwriter and composer. His writing on here is some of Boingo's most complex work yet, showcasing their penchant for odd time signatures and frequent musical mood swings. While I mentioned that the band's work features generally fast tempos, there are times in which the band tone down to represent moods other than complete bat[&*!#] insanity. "Private Life," while still on the faster side, is definitely more restrained and straightforward than much of the band's work; "Insects," meanwhile, touches on many bases in terms of speed. The main motif is heavily characterized by the lack of the snare drum... well, until the fast dance-like sections that occasionally (intentionally, I'm assuming) interrupt the general flow. This diversity is what makes the band so interesting to listen to; if you ever wanted to listen to a sort of precursor to Mr. Bungle, Oingo Boingo's music fits the bill very nicely.

In fact, in keeping with that Bungle comparison, you can consider Nothing to Fear the band's version of Mr. Bungle's masterpiece California. An increased sound palette, increased accessibility, and a heightened sense of cohesion makes the comparison pretty apt. Nothing to Fear takes the music of Only a Lad and makes it even better, retaining the eccentricity and overall oddness of Oingo Boingo's sound but slightly tightening and refining the musicianship and adding more subtle compositional nuances here and there. If there's one Oingo Boingo album you must own, this is probably it; I think Nothing to Fear could safely be dubbed the band's finest hour.

(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)

Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars It didn't take long at all for Danny Elfman to reconfigure his brother Richard Elfman's musical theater troupe in the late 70s into one of the most unique sounding musical outfits to have been lumped into the new wave movement that was finding massive popularity in the early part of the 80s. Danny proved to be the perfect eccentric character to nurture the artistry into completely unthinkable extremes that took the zolo quirky charm of 70s bands like Devo and Split Enz and added an entire big band sounding horn section to give it that extra oomf. On the debut self-tiled EP and the full-length "Only A Lad," Elfman not only teased out the best possible combination of punk rock, pop hooks, ska, jazz and African rhythms but also proved to be quite the accomplished composer as an entire album of compositions complemented each other perfectly and offered a diverse wealth of moods and feels within the band's new musical paradigm. The band stood out like a sore thumb which got them noticed very quickly.

While the band was not experiencing the popularity of the new wave artists that were in heavy rotation on MTV, they were quite the hit in their native Los Angeles stomping grounds where they found heavy radio play and regular live gigs. Wasting no time, the band followed up their debut full-length "Only A Lad" the following year with NOTHING TO FEAR which found the overall sound being ratcheted up a few notches in the heaviness department. On this sophomore release there are more pronounced uses of the electric guitar that are both louder and more distorted along with more liberal styles such as the occasional soloing. While Elfman spent some time in Africa learning how to play percussive instruments before the start of OINGO BOINGO, the implementation of the musical rhythms only scratched the surface and on NOTHING TO FEAR he pulled out the big guns and offered a much more dynamic percussive backdrop that was in the spirit of David Byrne's Talking Heads albums only much more dynamic.

Once again the band remained an octet with Danny Elfman belting out his eccentric vocal style as well as contributing rhythm guitar. Steve Bartek returned only this time being allowed to explore different guitar playing avenues instead of the incessant ska syncopations. Continuing their jazz-rock style, the dynamic horn section was arranged to provide the perfect counterpoint for the fast tempos and high energy spastic pace of the quirky tracks that sported Elfman's equally quirky lyrical content with tracks exploring the concepts of everything from human neurology in "Grey Matter," the hidden in plain sight world of "Insects" as well as the more mundane human experiences such as "Whole Day Off" and the titillating concept of "Wild Sex (in the Working Class). Everything on NOTHING TO FEAR is a step up, musically speaking, from "Only A Lad." Elfman's vocals are more wild and varied than ever. The tracks are more polished with a better team of mixers and sound engineers as well as the tracks being tighter and more creatively constructed. Despite the musical theater troupe having long been retired, Elfman continued the showtime themed aspects with a full zeal and commitment that utilized every possible exploration offered by the band's unique idiosyncratic sound.

NOTHING TO FEAR simply sounds more exotic than anything else that fell into the umbrella term new wave. While it clearly did have new wave attributes such as the syncopated ska rhythms derived from a punk rock beginning as well as the synthesizer rich layerings that were used as liberally as by the Human League, Duran Duran or A Flock Of Seagulls, OINGO BOINGO went the extra mile to find new sounds to encapsulate their quirky circus moodswings. NOTHING TO FEAR was the first BOINGO album to show off the band's homemade instruments which included crazy things like rumba-phones and other unique noise making devices created by Leon Schneiderman. Possibly the most amazing thing of all is that every track sounds unique and stands out from the others making NOTHING TO FEAR one of the best albums that band released in their 17 year long career. Even the album cover art screams brilliance with that cleverly crafted creature encapsulated in the brown and green surrealistic art.

NOTHING TO FEAR is the point where OINGO BOINGO began to see a more national audience latching onto their sound as they would be the opening act for diverse bands such as the punk band Fear as well as highly popular ska rock band The Police. The track "WIld Sex (In The Working Class)" would also eventually find a place in John Hughes' film "Sixteen Candles." So, yeah their sound was rowdy and raw enough to capture the hearts of the punk crowds, synthesizer laden enough for the burgeoning new wavers and sophisticated enough to even capture the hearts of the more progressive oriented music world as they indulged in a unique amalgamation of exotic percussion, a three-piece horn section all wrapped up in unconventional scales, harmonies and musical presentation. And to top it off, they also implemented strange surreal artistic presentation both live and on their album covers. OINGO BOINGO was one of a kind and NOTHING TO FEAR has to be the absolute pinnacle of their early glory years where all the elements were perfectly balanced to create one of the ultimate classics of 80s new wave. Personally it's a toss up between this one and the debut. They both have strengths and weaknesses so i'll just call it a tie and declare this a brilliant masterpiece as well.

Review by Kempokid
5 stars The second album by 'Oingo Boingo' improves upon their debut 'Only A Lad' in almost every way. There is more variety on it, no longer solely being a ska laden new wave album, now branching out to include more jazzy elements, along with a more varied tone. The songs no longer always have the same contrasting upbeat circus feel and dark lyrics, now including some dark sounding music at parts to complement it nicely. The compositions for the most part are far better as well, with not a single moment feeling like a dip in quality.

From the first song, 'Grey Matter' the band's growing maturity becomes quite apparent, being varied in instrumentation, including a marimba, yet still showing off their incredible strength of being downright catchy and enjoyable hooks and melodies. There are also songs with more prominence of the already wonderful horn and saxophone lines, with the title track being a shining example of this. This song is also one of the best on the album, being incredibly groovy, with smooth saxophone along with a more rock oriented approach, which is quite a nice change after the first half was quite exotic in terms of sound, making this a nice palette cleanser. Other highlights include the manically energetic and dance oriented 'Insects'. which is easily one of the more different songs on the album taking influence from disco or at least a similar kind of dance music. My favourite songs here however are definitely the more offbeat, dark ones, namely 'Why'd We Come' and 'Islands' which show off the strengths of Elfman's writing amazingly, with the intro to 'Why'd We Come' sounding a lot like something that could be found in Nightmare Before Christmas, and 'Islands' being rich in dark atmosphere.

Overall, this is a massive step forward in every respect, with more variety, better instrumentation, and more interesting compositions as well. The themes explored here are generally less overly satirical, but I also find a lot of them to be more enjoyable, balancing out dark themes of what's wrong with the world with songs about dancing on insects, making for a more balanced listen. I consider this to be one of the band's finest albums, and find myself returning to it on a regular basis.

Best songs: Grey Matter, Insects, Islands

Weakest songs: none

Verdict: This is the kind of album that I feel like could be enjoyed by a lot of people, given that it balances between accessibility and experimentation in such a way that it's extremely appealing, and I highly recommend more people to check this album out.

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