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"I'm changing my shape, I feel like an accident"

Class B

Main Category: Smart Pop
Also applicable: Art Rock, Avantgarde, Funk/R'n'B
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Talking Heads fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Talking Heads fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The Police were probably the quintessential New Wave band on the European side of the Atlantic - Talking Heads were inarguably the most significant and the best representatives of the genre on its American side. Not that this statement has a lot of classifying significance itself: there's nothing about the Heads that makes them specifically "American" or anything (after all, David Byrne wasn't a Statesman in the first place). However, they are certainly very much different from the Police, as well as, let's admit it, almost any other New Wave band, and deserve a special place in history.

The Heads were sort of an ugly duckling at the CBGB's where they first attracted the general attention; while the club was notorious for its proto-punk and punk acts like Patti Smith, Television, and the Ramones (and Blondie, who certainly weren't punk but had some o' that attitude, for sure), the Heads were more like groovy kitschy nerds quietly doing their schtick in the corner. In the end, that schtick made them superstars, even if nobody really can define what that schtick actually was in the first place. Seriously now, where did the Heads' sound come from? You can more or less dissect, say, the Police into the sum of their primary influences (reggae, punk, avantgarde jazz - of course, the Police were always bigger than a mere sum, but did I really need to mention that?); it's much harder to do that with the Heads. In some ways, they might just have been the most revolutionary artists of the late Seventies as far as sound textures go.

They started out mildly enough, like a "weird" pop band that didn't really look like it was coming from another planet, but there were strange signs everywhere - in David Byrne's paranoid, goofy post-modernistic vocal deliveries, in his state-of-the-art stream-of-conscience lyrics, and, of course, in the band's weird interlocking guitar rhythms. They were certainly funky, but that was kind of a special "funk-pop" sound where you could be taking the syncopation and the beats and throwing away the hot sexual energy, the loudness and the spontaneity. Instead, the rhythmics of funk was adapted to the Heads' "friendly robotic" nerdy music, which was decidedly tongue-in-cheek and occasionally weird for weirdness' sake. Later on, they added that important "ethnic" element, being one of the first artistic units (along with Peter Gabriel) to pioneer the 'world beat' scene, although, unlike many others, Byrne and Co. never used the "ethnic" element for PC reasons (i.e. to show how profound and spiritual non-Western music can be), but rather adapted it to their own quirky nerdy needs. All of that just screams "post-modernism!" at me, and arguably the Heads represented the first post-modern rock sound, thus serving as the primary influence for hundreds, if not thousands of bands - everything from XTC to Oingo Boingo to all of their lame imitators who couldn't hope to have even a tiny part of David Byrne's talent.

Of course, the Heads' post-modernism came to complete fruition when they encountered the best guy they could ever have hoped to encounter: the marriage of the Heads' melodies and lyrics with Brian Eno's glossy, modernistic production was a marriage made in heaven. Besides being an expert musician, producer and "idea man", Eno could also provide the Heads with something they sorely lacked, which is actual emotional resonance. Try comparing the Eno-produced albums of the band (especially Fear Of Music and Remain In Light) with the Eno-less albums - you'll most certainly notice that the other ones can sound a little 'dry', and most probably, they'll never reach the depths of your psyche like those other two records can. That's because Eno's sound layers give actual human resonance to the Heads' robotic rhythms and Byrne's "tongue-in-cheek paranoid" lyrics. And this is why both of these albums are absolute classics for the ages.

Personally, me being a "classic rock guy" and all, the Heads have a very slim chance of becoming my favourite band or something (I like a little bit more immediate emotionality with my music), but even within my personal hierarchy, they are still unquestionably the second best New Wave artist (I don't need to remind you who's the first). As somebody who's had real problems with getting into the band, I can offer but this one piece of advice - if you're experiencing the same kind of problems, but still would like to know what all the fuss is about, try disregarding Byrne's vocals for a minute and drawing out your air guitar to play along with the band on some of their more adventurous stuff (like the "Big Drone" on More Songs, for instance). Or, if you're an actual guitar player, trying to play some real guitar along with their cranky rhythms. That's where most of the excitement lies.

Lineup for youse: David Byrne (vocals, guitar), Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Tina Weymouth (bass, backing vocals), Chris Frantz (drums). The fact that the Heads went through more than a decade of music without a single member change is definitely a great asset. Another asset is that Tina Weymouth might be the cutest bass player ever, and she still looks great after all these years, as witnessed on the band's pompous Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

Brilliantly written, but where would these guys be without everybody's famous pornography lover?


Track listing: 1) Uh-Oh Love Comes To Town; 2) New Feeling; 3) Tentative Decisions; 4) Happy Day; 5) Who Is It?; 6) No Compassion; 7) The Book I Read; 8) Don't Worry About The Government; 9) First Week/Last Week... Carefree; 10) Psycho Killer; 11) Pulled Up.

I guess the Heads weren't actually poised for commercial success with this one - what kind of dummy would want his debut album to sell with such a minimalistic cover? Another thing that immediately strikes you is how artsy-fartsy these guys were from the very beginning; apart from the Cars (whose New Wave fetish was almost an accidental thing anyway), the Heads are probably the only important New Wave band who do not have their roots in punk. I mean, for the rough and rowdy year of '77, which is so unequivocally indicated on the album cover, this sounds like a bunch of sissies playing sissy music with sissy guitar tones and singing sissy lyrics with sissy voices. In fact, it's a wonder they didn't regularly get booed offstage in their CBGB period.

But at the least, they were innovative, from the start. There are two things about '77 that set it apart from their following "classic" albums. First, there's no Brian Eno, and thus the production is pretty bare-bones. In fact, there's absolutely nothing to the production apart from the two-guitar-bass-drum pattern - occasionally, they toss in some piano lines, but still, these songs could have been easily recorded live in the studio, with just one, maximum two later overdubs (some of them probably were). This is both an advantage, in that for those who don't like their music pretentious and excessively artsy, '77 will easily be their favourite Heads record; and a flaw, because the songs are so goddamn hard to separate from each other. (Of course, they're still much more easy to separate than the ones on More Drones About Buildings And Food, but don't take that as a derogant arrogation, er, arrogant derogation, I mean).

The other problem is that they still haven't invented their main trademark style - yes, there's plenty of bizarre, uniquely played guitar syncopation on this record, but it's still nothing compared to the defiant chunka-chunka droning interplay between Byrne and Harrison on the next album. In fact, you could probably trace these rhythms to either a direct power-pop influence or a direct funk influence, and there's no predicting the amazing style of the next three records by merely listening to '77. That said, on some of the tracks they're really getting close, and at the very least it is obvious that they are actively trying to push forward guitar boundaries, in much the same way as their other artsy-guitar-heavy contemporaries Television (although Television put more effort into lead guitar playing, while the Heads are almost always exploring rhythm and rhythm only).

So, in fact, these aren't so much problems as they're merely indications that the band is still in its "establishing" phase. That has nothing to do with the quality of the actual songs, though, and the actual songs are all good. Byrne has already gotten his somewhat paranoid, somewhat eccentric romantic, somewhat sly social commentator poetic/vocal schtick together, and has already gotten an understanding of the fact that if your good song isn't a jam or a New Age masterpiece, it has to have a good hook. Therefore, if upon the first listen you start cringing and complaining about how it all sounds the same, don't despair - the hooks will start flying out at you and flapping their schizophrenia-driven wings at any moment now!

The album's most notorious song, of course, is 'Psycho Killer', which isn't nearly as frightening as the title (or the grim opening bassline, for that matter) suggests, because Byrne is primarily a goofman, and the 'psycho killer, qu'est-ce-que c'est? fa fa fa fa, fa fa fa fa fa fa, better run run run away' chorus amply demonstrates that. It's an eerie invitation to share the mind of a maniac all right, but it's a goofy invitation, and you can easily change the lyrics so that the song will deal with, I dunno, picking up a chick in a bar, although, granted, it probably wouldn't have nearly the same impact, or maybe it would. If you're interested, the song's major melodic hook is how the guitars disappear before the 'fa fa fas' and then come in again before the 'run run runs'. Great "counterpoint"!

'Psycho Killer' might be the outstanding track on here, but almost every other song has something going for it. 'Uh-Oh Love Comes To Town' opens the record in a strangely conventional manner, like a normal dance-pop number with a memorable, extremely well-built chorus (and boy, does that Ms Weymouth play a hot funky bass! James Jamerson, eat your heart out! There, I smoothly compensated my glaring racism with my active pro-feminist stance); but already the second song, 'New Feeling', even if it does start out by ripping off the riff of the Doors' 'My Eyes Have Seen You', soon evolves into that unprecedented Byrne/Harrison interplay which would later evolve into... uhm, even more unprecedented Byrne/Harrison interplay.

Other highlights that I could name right away are 'Happy Day', with its sentimental, but untrivially sentimental chorus; the multi-part "mini-suite" 'No Compassion', especially its opening and closing part where the main powerful riff is augmented by these tasty slide guitar bits and Byrne's 'in a world where people have problems' almost sounds like Neil Young; the lush romantic send-up 'The Book I Read' and especially that part where the bass piano line steps in and Byrne goes chanting 'na na na na - na na nana nana na'; the optimistic, little-man-shuns-the-Ray-Davies-attitude ditty 'Don't Worry About The Government', with its hypnotic, almost mantraic chorus (there's certainly something enthralling about Byrne going 'I'll be working, working...', don't you think?); and the ecstatic, overdriven album closer 'Pulled Up', with Byrne throwing the first of his trademark vocal hysterics. See, I've named you eight songs out of eleven, so that should give you some indication of how consistent these guys were from the beginning (and that doesn't mean the remaining three suck either).

I guess it's also the most optimistic album you'll ever be hearing from these lads - heck, if even 'Psycho Killer' doesn't sound frightening, then what's to be said about the love songs (which, confusedly enough, form the majority of the album)? If all these reasons aren't enough for you to go out and buy the record, you must be a reclusive Phil Keaggy fan or something. In which case I respect you, but I FEAR YOU! PSYCHO KILLER - QU'EST-CE QUE C'EST?



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

Diddy-did-did-diddy-dy-dee... di-did-did-did-did-d-d-d-dii... That's the sound of the Talking Heads, if you're not aware.

Best song: WITHOURLOVETHEGOODTHINGWARNINGSIGNTHEGIRLS... yeah, yeah, up to track number nine.

Track listing: 1) Thank You For Sending Me An Angel; 2) With Our Love; 3) The Good Thing; 4) Warning Sign; 5) The Girls Want To Be With The Girls; 6) Found A Job; 7) Artists Only; 8) I'm Not In Love; 9) Stay Hungry; 10) Take Me To The River; 11) The Big Country.

Is More Songs the album that defines New Wave? Well... both yes, it does, and no, it doesn't. "No" in the sense that it's hard to define New Wave at all. What is New Wave? Much as I love definitions, I can hardly define this term, and it's good: it shows that New Wave wasn't so much a distinct musical style all enclosed in itself than just a solid musical period in which classic Sixties' pop was temporarily revived on a different scale. Therefore, just as you can't give a uniform definition to 'Sixties pop', in the same way you can't give a definition to New Wave. The Talking Heads, the Cars, and the Police are all New Wave, but is their music similar? Hmm... in a certain way, yes, but certainly not as similar as the music of any two selected heavy metal bands or any two selected rap combos.

That said, More Songs is still a quintessential New Wave record, more so than any Police or Cars record. And on the surface, this isn't very good. As the Heads combine forces with producer Brian Eno (St Eno's Fire!!), who would remain their main 'spiritual guide' throughout their golden period, they fully embrace the famous 'paranoid' writing and performing style they are most well-known for. More Songs' main attraction are, of course, the guitars - Byrne's maniacal voice and Tina Weymouth's funky bass are mere pleasant decorations, an important part of the overall sound but never its essence. But oh those guitars. The album is quite revolutionary in the way it completely redefines the guitar sound of the Seventies. There is certainly a lot of Eno influence on here; I can trace the way Byrne's and Harrison's guitars actually sound to some of Eno's own albums, most notably Taking Tiger Mountain, and, not coincidentally, Eno himself is also credited with some of the guitars for this album. But this album is all about the guitars. How can this sound be described? Paranoid and funky, sure, but more than just paranoid and funky. Perhaps the best example of this addictive buzz is 'Stay Hungry'. It's actually a very complex sound, based on overdubs of several fast jerky guitar rhythms crossed with each other, sometimes bopping along at different speed, sometimes with different special effects and Eno-treatments, but the key to their essence is that the resulting sound is not of a robotic character. If you listen closely, you'll see that it features all kinds of weird syncopation, plus the band has a lot of fun with volume and tonality effects - sometimes that droning buzz becomes just a wee bit faster, sometimes just a wee bit slower, then a wee bit quieter, then a wee bit louder, then they intentionally miss a note or two, then they put in a trifle of a wah-wah effect for a couple of seconds. All of these things are very hard to perform live, of course, and I'd bet you anything that a lot of the effect was lost in concert, but as a studio experience, this is as wonderful as it ever gets. It goes without saying that these rhythms served as one of the primary influences for Eighties and Nineties dance-pop, but the brainless popsters missed the 'human' factor in the sound and just went along with the robotic one. The profanes!!

But remember, I said something about this record being a quintessential New Wave record not being very good. And why's that? Because in search for that weird drone, the Heads and top Head Byrne forgot to bother about the melodies. In a certain sense, again, there are melodies here, but they all seem to be secondary in relation to the sound. Truthfully, I simply can't tell most of the songs apart - the only thing that helps is that the band is so paranoid they never make any pauses within actual songs, so whenever a short break comes on, you get to understand that there's another song coming. But to me, even after four or five listens, it's still all just one song. There are three exceptions. The record starts with an upbeat, 'Get Back'-rhythm based stomper pretentiously called 'Thank You For Sending Me An Angel' that has Byrne at his most schizophrenic and the band at its most rockin'. Then there's the BIG DRONE that lasts for eight tracks, after which comes the Heads' biggest hit up to that point, their cover of Al Green's 'Take Me To The River'. Frankly, I'm a bit puzzled as to why everybody loves that one so much. It's a good, soulful, intelligent number, but hardly essential for the Heads, and personally, I prefer when soulful grooves are done in a soulful manner - for my money, Bryan Ferry's version of it was done far better (unfortunately, I haven't heard the original). And 'The Big Country' that finishes the record is a lengthy melodyless bore: it might be the record's defining lyrical moment, with a hard-hitting anti-American rant on the part of Mr Byrne, but musically it starts nowhere and proceeds in the exact same direction.

That said, I still give the record an exceedingly high overall rating of eleven, simply because I dig that sound so much. Many people hated it at first and many people still hate it, but they're conservative. People, have the guts to recognize a revolutionary record when you see one - particularly considering that it was one of the last revolutionary rock records ever made. Oh, and do I really need to mention the sub-names of the 'Big Drone'? Are you interested in my particular opinion about its sub-parts? Fine. Two words. 'The Good Thing' is bouncy and jerky and very gentle, not to mention suggestive; 'Warning Sign' is bouncy and jerky and very atmospheric, not to mention scary; 'The Girls Want To Be With The Girls' is bouncy and jerky and very lesbian, not to mention Brit-poppy; 'Found A Job' is VERY bouncy and VERY jerky and very dumb-sounding, not to mention weird; 'I'm Not In Love' is bouncy and jerky and very rough, not to mention eminently danceable; and 'Stay Hungry' is BOUNCY TO THE EXTREME and JERKY TO THE EXTREME and very addictive, not to mention... Oh hell, it's the Talking Heads we're discussing after all. Remember, if you want to save music, you'll have to learn to play the guitar like David Byrne does it.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Paranoid, yet catchy and easily accessible. Congratulations, boys, you managed to tame down your insane ring-ring-ring.

Best song: CITIES. Or LIFE DURING WARTIME. Or whatever you want

Track listing: 1) I Zimbra; 2) Mind; 3) Paper; 4) Cities; 5) Life During Wartime; 6) Memories Can't Wait; 7) Air; 8) Heaven; 9) Animals; 10) Electric Guitar; 11) Drugs.

I still can't decide if Fear Of Music qualifies as the best album of 1979 or not - it's almost on par with the Police's offering of the same year. I'd still give the Nobel prize to the Police if I could (and if Nobel wasn't such a smartass and left over something for all the musicians out there), because I'm just somewhat more reverend towards their style than to David Byrne's "ethnic lunacy", but that's minor quibbling in the literal sense of the expression. Seriously now, Fear Of Music, even if it was only released a year after More Songs, is an improvement over that album, good as it was itself, in almost every possible way. Preserving the mind-boggling grooves of that record, together with its producer (Eno), Mr Byrne adds in two key elements, each one of which boosts the record an extra point.

Key element number one is a super-duper pop sensibility that got lost somewhere on the highway while they were talking about buildings and food. Not only is every song listenable and having a personality of its own, but most of them are chock-full of smooth hooklines that become absolutely irresistable on second listen ('cuz they're a bit annoying and repetitive on the first one). Could I stick out a little metaphor? Thank you. I'd say that the material of More Songs was like a new and ground-breaking type of dough, cleverly prepared and wisely patented by chef extraordinaire; Fear Of Music, though, puts that dough into the oven, bakes the whole pie and doesn't forget to cut it into reasonable portions so that everybody could get one's share and not bitch over the slicing process. I mean, the songs are still somewhat similar in style, tempo, and key (although there's a heavier reliance on minor chords here than before, which makes the album really really gloomy in places), but since all the hooklines are different, it doesn't seem anymore like Byrne and co. just wrote that record in order to lay down their unique brand of rhythm playing. What good is unique rhythm playing if all you do is uniquely playing rhythm, after all?

Key element number two is that the record really makes sense - and a lot of it. This is clearly a concept album, and not only that - it's a real concept album, which is very unusual, since most 'concept albums' are in fact pseudo-concept albums, whose main purpose is to leave the listener behind gaping at what the possible 'concept' could really be (think Sgt Pepper, eh?). The concept that lies behind all these songs is somewhat similar to the concept of Dark Side Of The Moon: fear and insecurity, madness and desperation at the sight of everything that's actually mentioned in these songs: their titles speak for themselves - 'Paper', 'Cities', 'Mind', 'Heaven', 'Animals', 'Air', 'Drugs', 'Electric Guitar'... Somebody at the Prindle site suggested that the key to understanding the record is its title: substitute 'music' from the title and put in most of these individual song titles, and you get exactly that same message that Mr Byrne wanted to communicate us. I really couldn't agree more about that. And while the album loses a little bit to DSOTM in terms of epicness and seriousness, it picks everything back up in terms of intriguing, ambivalent lyrics, clever arrangements, and diversity.

Of course, the main proof of this album's greatness is that it's extremely hard to select any highlights - try as I can, I can't find even one weak number on here; perhaps only the closing five-minute drone of 'Drugs' overstays its welcome, as the song has too few energy to compensate for the length. (Why is it that the worst song on the record almost always has to be the lengthiest? Is it because the lengthiest song on the record always has to be the worst?). Even so, it's hardly bad, because the song's main 'dripping' hookline is pretty solid.

Otherwise, it's just one excellent groove after another. As a short promising intro, the Heads pioneer world beat in 'I Zimbra' with its moody ethnic African rhythms - the song would later serve as a blueprint for the entire Discipline album by King Crimson. (That was hyperbole, but unless you can't tell hyperbole from hyperbollocks, just forget that last sentence). Then Byrne promises to find something to change your mind, discovering a couple unforgettable guitar riffs on the way; bounces his way through the thunderstormy 'Paper', with one of the most complex and fascinating rhythm tracks on the album; and proceeds to my current favourite, the electric piano-dominated 'Cities', which somehow ties in the paranoid guitar rhythms with music hall keyboards and disco bass, not to mention the lyrics, as David keeps busy trying to find himself a city to live in. Something makes me think he's left dissatisfied with all of the possible choices...

...which makes him jump to the angry, uncompromising single 'Life During Wartime', the ultimate synth-popper if there ever was one, and to the bombastic, overwhelming 'Memories Can't Wait' that thrusts us into the even weirder section of the album, as echoes, tons of special effects and drugged-out, lunatic fantasies make their real appearance. That said, did I mention that the lunatic fantasies are all solidly anchored in tasty riffs and carefully structured out, never getting out of control? Turn in that information, please. 'Air' is pretty and atmospheric; 'Heaven', with its key phrase ('heaven is a place where nothing ever happens'), and sad, melancholic mood, lets us know that you can't escape shit even in the saintest of locations; 'Animals' is the funniest anti-animal rave I've ever heard occur on this planet (I can almost picture Byrne impersonating a drunk professor opening up his heart to somebody in a fit of uncontrolled anger!); and 'Electric Guitar' is just... strange. Is it a condemnation of rock music? Or a condemnation of people opposing music? Or just... words? In any case, these are words spoken out with a vengeance, and propped up against an energetic rhythm pattern (Chris Frantz is the main star on this song - his drumming almost makes it worthwhile on its own) and a groovy five-note riff forming a perfect counterpoint for Byrne's raving.

If anything ever lets the album down, it's a feeling that the band still can't (and would actually never be able to) overstep its own groove and broaden the perspective - the record holds no real surprises, except for an amazing level of consistency and quality. It also hurts that Fear Of Music is so seriously soulless - 'Heaven' might be the sole tiny exception - and Byrne never really lets you enter his own personal world (something that really ties him in together with another David, if you know who I mean). But melody-wise and approach-wise, any complaints would be futile; this is one of New Wave's highest points, and a record that should really go down as an absolute classic. Why some reviewers put it down as 'transitional' and 'not fully representative' is way beyond me; for my money, this is the most perfect and adequate artistic statement that the band ever produced. Ever.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Completely spaced out and dizzy, this is the Heads' debacling on a HUGE scale. Be cautious! Asteroids are falling!


Track listing: 1) Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On); 2) Crosseyed And Painless; 3) The Great Curve; 4) Once In A Lifetime; 5) Houses In Motion; 6) Seen And Not Seen; 7) Listening Wind; 8) The Overload.

[Gotta start with a pretentious and attention-drawing introduction.] Man, this is a tough, tough, tough call. Good thing I'm not reserved to giving out just one highest rating to any particular band, or I would have to spend my days in a mental asylum trying to figure out whether Fear Of Music beats out Remain In Light or it is vice versa. See, on one hand, Fear Of Music appeals somewhat more to me personally, with catchier melodies, a larger number of songs, and cute little philosophic twists of the lyrics/performances that render Mr Byrne more, well, humane. On the other hand, Remain In Light is, without a doubt, a far more accomplished record, a grand canvas that steps over the narrow New Wave borders of the Heads' two previous offerings, and thus is more innovative and everything. What should I do? Give 'em an equal rating, of course!

[Okay, I'm gonna play serious rock critic now and offer a Serious Rock Critic Metaphor]. If Fear Of Music was just the equivalent of preliminary training within the spacecraft, then Remain In Light is more like a true venture into outer space. [Next, the expected Metaphor Expansion and Explanation]. The reason of my saying this is simple - the production. Either the band has completely signed control over to Eno or they just felt more and more at ease with Eno every day, but I don't even feel the studio boundaries while listening to this stuff. The 'live' feeling of that last record, which was still present, is completely gone - at times, this sounds more like a sealed package aliens have sent on Earth, containing recordings of an alien cruise around Alpha Centauri. Synth bleeps and beeps, all kinds of psycho effects, roaring and screeching guitars that appear out of nowhere only to disappear in that same direction, 'heavenly' or 'ugly' vocal harmonies, all of them completely unpredictable, this will certainly bug you and debug you for several times before you get used to it.

But oh man, is that stuff actually cool. [The metaphor being expanded, we now proceed to depicting the songs - otherwise, the review will be too short and nobody will get bored. That won't work, eh?]. The first side is by far the best, as it concentrates on faster rhythms, rhythms that are neither disco nor world beat, rather just totally crazed out percussion-heavy dance rhythms that take a little bit of everything. I suppose that lyrics do matter on here, occasionally, offering more of Byrne's interesting views on society, but I tell you, the sounds on here don't really make me wanna sit back and pull out the lyrics sheet, as I did want to do while enjoying Fear Of Music. Instead, I just revel in the pure hypnotic grooves of that stuff. For instance, the guitars and synthesizers on 'Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)' play all kinds of jagged riffs, solos, half- and quarter-riffs and half- and one-eighth-solos and almost seem to be playing hide and seek with each other. You know, like little green Meeps jumping around and making your head spin. It's fun to just cling on to one of those guitar tracks and pretend you're clinging on to a comet which is whirling you around a planet or something. But then you get shaken off, only to follow 'Crosseyed And Painless' into the depths of 'dynamic lethargy' - how can a track thus obviously rocking and energetic be so dang lethargic? I suppose it's those vocal harmonies that lull you, but aren't all those whizzing guitar noises supposed to wake you up? Oh well, just more spacey pandering...

...and if you think you're out of it, you're wrong! 'The Great Curve' is the centerpiece of the album - as fast as anything else, and based on the record's best gimmick, a brilliant call-and-answer session between sparkling lead guitar trills and playful bass runs. And if that, and the brilliant vocal polyphony, ain't enough, then perhaps guitar wiz Adrian Belew's manic guitar parts will be enough to convince you of the song's paranoid greatness. I get in the groove so much that for me, this even overshadows the arguably best known track off the album, Byrne's glorious anthem 'Once In A Lifetime'. Great pop harmonies on that one, great groove, but not all that outstanding to be the perfect epitome of the Heads' idiosyncratic magnificence - heck, it could have as well been written by Eno himself, while 'The Great Curve' could only have been penned by the Heads. But why bitch about them? [Reaching a consensus here.]

The second side is real hard to sit through, now. It's slower and even more atmospheric - we're reaching our destination, folks, so fasten your belts and take one last short nap. 'Houses In Motion' is the one number on here that's closest to 'filler' definition, but it's perfectly compensated for by the robotic pulsation of 'Seen And Not Seen' and the mantraic chanting of 'Listening Wind', both great songs that I'll never love to the point of gluing my ears to the speakers whenever they come on, but at least I'll never be willing to push the 'fast forward' button on either of them, and that's more than I can say about Grand Funk Railroad, for instance.

[Grand exit now.] And, of course, Eno wouldn't be Eno if he hadn't made the band end the album on a super-slow, creepy, pseudo-goth note with 'The Overload', which sounds more or less 'industrial', I guess, but is far more accessible and impressive than most industrial I've heard so far. And hey, if you're one o' dem D&D fans, just replace the 'a' in the middle of the title with an 'r' and the song will immediately turn into a mystical medieval fantasy. Who knows - perhaps it was meant to be that way? That old hoot Eno.

[A note of pessimism wouldn't hurt.] The biggest problem, of course, is that nothing particularly good was influenced by this record (and don't try to convince me otherwise), but then again, that classic Police sound was also lost to the waves, wasn't it? Admit it - New Wave, at best, didn't influence anything, and at worst, influenced lots of crap, like all the synth-pop scene and the techno beats. Okay, I know that I'm not exactly right here, but I know that I'm not exactly wrong, either. Heh heh. Actually, I'm only doing this to emphasize the importance and glory of Remain In Light. Admit it, it would be painful to speak of it as a 'transitional link' or some shit like that - let's speak of it as a transcendent value in itself! Go buy it now!



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

Live is truly the way to go for these guys.

Best song: everything.

Track listing: CD I: 1) New Feeling; 2) A Clean Break (Let's Work); 3) Don't Worry About The Government; 4) Pulled Up; 5) Psycho Killer; 6) Who Is It?; 7) The Book I Read; 8) The Big Country; 9) I'm Not In Love; 10) The Girls Want To Be With The Girls; 11) Electricity (Drugs); 12) Found A Job; 13) Mind; 14) Artists Only; 15) Stay Hungry; 16) Air; 17) Love - Building On Fire; 18) Memories (Can't Wait); 19) Heaven;

CD II: 1) Psycho Killer; 2) Warning Sign; 3) Stay Hungry; 4) Cities; 5) I Zimbra; 6) Drugs (Electricity); 7) Once In A Lifetime; 8) Animals; 9) Houses In Motion; 10) Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On); 11) Crosseyed And Painless; 12) Life During Wartime; 13) Take Me To The River; 14) The Great Curve.

Once you have finally gone up The Great Curve, there's always the danger of The Overload. So, unless, of course, you're one of 'em tough guys Born Under Punches under a Listening Wind, the most Crosseyed and Painless way to avoid having your Houses in [constant] Motion is, at least Once In A Lifetime, to be Seen And Not Seen. As a result, once the Talking Heads' biggest and most pompous tour to date drew to a close, the band members temporarily parted ways, with Harrison and Byrne both releasing solo albums and the rhythm section forming the Tom Tom Club and attempting to prove that they, too, really mattered in this shenanigan.

Breaks like these often result in live albums, and, since the Heads actually built their initial reputation upon touring, it was a rather natural move. A decision was reached, however, to provide the buyer with a live anthology of the band rather than one complete or near-complete performance, so that he could trace the evolution of their sound from the early club days of 1977 to the big booming World Beat events of 1980-81. The result was a double album, with each side covering one year of work (only 1978 was excluded) and presenting the band in a slightly different light. The record was not a big commercial success (after all, it was no Frampton Comes Alive), and therefore, when the CD age came along, the record bosses somehow forgot all about its existence, especially since its popularity was so obviously overshadowed by the post-'Burning Down The House' success of Stop Making Sense, the movie and the accompanying live soundtrack.

For some reason, though, the memory lingered, and at least several people I'd met on the Web actually included this record into their list of 'Top 10 (20, 100) Albums Most Unjustly Forgotten In The CD Age'. Certainly the band's dedicated fans must have been red-hot-chili-pepper-hot about it, and finally, after all these years, in 2004, no earlier, Rhino Records actually put it out on CD. Once again, though, the Rhino people outdid themselves, showing why their little label is truly the best in the business. The original double LP is now a double CD, with almost twice as much material as there used to be. Not only has everything been polished and remastered, so that this is now one of the best-sounding live albums ever in my collection, but - get this - out of forty one studio tracks released by the Heads on their first four albums, The Name... now has a whoppin' twenty-eight correlative live versions, plus two songs that were not released on any LPs. The expression "the only Talking Heads album you'll ever need", when applied to this record, thus assumes an almost literal meaning.

Of course, none of this would matter if the album were bad. In fact, little of it would matter if the album were okay. But if the album were real good, much of it would matter. And since the album is actually completely, totally, inarguably, unequivocally, flabber-fuckin'-gastingly awesome, there's not a tiny little drop-o'-minutiae on here that does not matter a big friggin' lot. In other words, the new edition of The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads is right up there with Live At Leeds, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, Made In Japan, and Absent Lovers as one of the greatest live albums of all time, and I will stick to this freshly-baked dogma even if somebody proves to me that more than 50% of this stuff has been overdubbed in the studio. Which it possibly has. I don't really care, because the absolute majority of these performances blow their studio versions away, once and for all.

It may, of course, be merely a technical merit of the remastering; the engineering wizards have taken all the guitar parts, blown out all the sawdust, oiled and vinegared them, revved up the volume, put them back in, and made it happen so that the very first chords of 'New Feeling', with the volume knob turned up properly, will pin you against the wall and make you scream 'POWER! UNLIMITED POWER!' where the studio versions made you feel like this nerdy little midget playing his guitar from the inside of the instrument. But, on the other hand, the Heads did belong to the kind of bands who opted for a strict distinction between their live and their studio sound, and it would be natural for them to crank it up in a live setting. However, none of the cranking up ever happens at the expense of technical prowess and the tightest coordination ever imaginable between band members; and no matter how berserkingly whoppersome Byrne can get by the middle of a given tune, the funky rhythms will never start chuggin' the wrong way. Finally, the songs are rarely played exactly the way they were recorded; almost every single tune has a few minor extra touches that weren't there at first, and these touches always - and I mean it - work in favour of the song rather than against it.

Unquestionably, Disc 1 is the better of the two, or, rather, the most "talkinghead-est" of the two. The first five songs are from the original LP, representing a live-in-the-studio recording from late '77. The band is already in great shape, tight, precise, and minimalistic, and rocks the house down with 'Psycho Killer' - which now gets a slightly extended introduction where Byrne and Harrison have these little bits of guitar interplay fun, weaving an intricate web of half funk, half blues-rock, before launching into the main fabulous riff. There's also the non-album song 'A Clean Break (Let's Work)', which is, in terms of melody, at least as good as the best stuff on '77, and easily the funkiest number out of the five. (The reissue also adds 'Who Is It?' and 'The Book I Read' from the same performance).

We then segue into 1978, a year not present on the original LP at all, here predictably represented by four songs off Buildings And Food plus an early rendition of 'Electricity (Drugs)'. Now I've never been a big fan of either 'The Big Country' or 'Drugs', as you may already well know, but in this setting 'Big Country' doesn't sound half-bad, and 'Drugs' gets elevated to near-masterpiece status - honestly, these guys are almost starting me think bad of Eno, whose production may have given the band a unique glossy sheen but also robbed it of all the pure force of the live performances. The best moment comes at the end of 'Found A Job', with one guitar pumping out a steady, unerring, and absolutely frantic funky rhythm and the other playing this loud, arrogant, minimalistic, triumphant 'anthem' over it while the audience either cheers and yells in ecstasy or gives out annoying whistles as if somebody weren't too happy about that.

Finally, the 1979 tracks (five from the original album, augmented by performances of 'Mind' and 'Heaven' from other sources) find the band completely revamped, equipped with keyboards in addition to guitars, displaying tons more artistic ambition, allowing Tina to sing backing vocals on 'Air', and even sounding scary on occasion, most notably during its ass-kicking, almost heavy metal reworking of 'Memories (Can't Wait)' (well, I mean, "heavy metal" according to the Heads' own standards, of course). Much is different now. On 'Stay Hungry', for instance, where nothing of particular importance used to happen during the instrumental break in the studio, Harrison now gets a dark, mantraic keyboard solo that for some reason reminds me of Ray Manzarek. And on 'Air', Byrne's vocal performance is truly something else. (Although I'm afraid that part of the concert might have truly undergone doctoring - did they really have that much echo and "mystique" during the performances?).

Disc 2 is, of course, less typical of what is normally typical for the Heads. It is all taken from the Remain In Light tour, on which the band, in order to be able to reproduce all the atmosphere of the original, stepped out on stage enhanced by a whoppin' six extra musicians, including, among others, Nona Hendryx on backing vocals and even former Funkadelician Bernie Worrell on clavinet. The result is that the tightness and the powerfulness of the band get a little subdued by all the extras, and the versions of RIL tunes add far less to the originals than the performances on Disc 1. On the other hand, it's a good thing that the band sounds differently, because no matter how great a performance is, it'd be hard to sit through two and a half hours of Talking Heads tunes that all sound the same.

And the true saving grace of disc 2, and its greatest asset, is Adrian Belew. Not just Adrian Belew, but a completely mature, self-confident, luminous Adrian Belew just on the verge of his big breakthrough with the Eighties' version of King Crimson, as professional and inventive on here as he would be on Absent Lovers. Unlike the rest of the "expanded" band, he comes out with Byrne and Co. at the very start of the concert, and adds wackiness and interest to everything, beginning with (a second version of) 'Psycho Killer', where the fa-fa-fa-fa's are now accompanied by (what sounds like a) guitar equivalent of a telephone line and the coda is now a true raging bull. It's useless to state in words all the coolness of his contributions, but Belew does seem to always work better live than he does in the studio, and his participation in the Heads' debauchery is no exception.

And, at the very least, even if a big chunk of Disc 2 material does not improve on the studio originals, there's no way it disimproves on them, if you know what I mean. Heck, it's one thing to make a careful studio recording of 'The Great Curve', but it's a different thing to keep all these innumerable guitar, bass, percussion, and vocal parts together in a live setting, so that they would move forward flawlessly like well-coordinated parts of one mechanism. But they manage. And 'Take Me To The River' is better than the original, if only because they now have the aid of Nona Hendryx to pull it off - adding soul and depth to Byrne's former paranoia.

The worst has now happened - after all these performances, I simply find myself reluctant to return to the studio albums. With the huge track selection, I don't even see any serious gaps that I would sorely miss. Maybe I'd like a live version of 'Uh-Oh Love Comes To Town', or of 'No Compassion', or maybe 'Electric Guitar' (although the latter choice would probably be maligned by the majority). But I certainly don't miss the last three songs off RIL, or... ah well. Final word is - every single young and aspiring guitar-based band playing today should be force-fed at least the first disc and told that if they aren't able to play like that in a year's time, they'd better return to their art colleges or fast food joints. 'Nuff said.

PS. One last thing: conscience reasons force me to warn you that if you own this on an old LP, there are some differences - first, the track sequencing on Disc 2 has been completely changed (as far as I know, the new order reflects the original situation better), and second, the LP had a weird one-minute funky intro to 'Crosseyed And Painless' that has for no particular reason been chopped off. Thus, if you're the kind of nitpicking, trifle-concerned, obsessive-compulsive, Oh-my-God-Greedo-shoots-first kind of a guy, feel free to boycott Rhino or whatever. Me, I'm not playing these games and, being completely free of nostalgia, I'll take this new version, thank you very much.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

Simplifying their approach - it's like the bottom is falling out of the band's insanity. But it's possible to survive without a bottom too.


Track listing: 1) Burning Down The House; 2) Making Flippy Floppy; 3) Girlfriend Is Better; 4) Slippery People; 5) I Get Wild/Wild Gravity; 6) Swamp; 7) Moon Rocks; 8) Pull Up The Roots; 9) This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).

Apparently, Remain In Light left the band drained - they took a nearly three-year-long break after its release. There seems to also have been a good deal of tension between the members, which was partially relieved by everybody working on their own for a while. Byrne collaborated with Eno on the now famous My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts project (reviewed on the Eno page); Harrison recorded a solo album; and the happy family of Tina and Chris formed the funky Tom Tom Club project, which was actually almost as popular as the Heads themselves for some time.

But all happy vacations must end, and what would the Heads be a-doin' three years later, coming off two of the greatest New Wave albums ever recorded? Well... the Heads intentionally went down. Not only did they never ever record anything better (or as good as) their 1979-80 albums, they - so it seems - never had the intention of recording anything better. Speaking In Tongues is clearly regressive, and even self-consciously so, the main clue being the lack of Eno as producer. Whether Byrne and Co. parted ways with Eno on their own, or he refused to work with them any more, is unclear; the simple truth is, there's no Eno here, and thus, the album comes off as almost totally lacking the atmosphere of its predecessors. The darkness, the mental anguish, the deadly grip on the listener, the paranoia and the thorough otherworldness are gone, once and for all.

What is not gone (not yet) is the amazing texture of the Heads' rhythmic power. The guitar duo of Byrne/Harrison is still going strong, chuggin' out their hot-blooded funky rhythms like there was no tomorrow. Only this time, instead of adapting them to the oh-so-artsy bleak sonic landscapes of Eno production, they make them the centerpoint of everything that's going on. No extra disturbance, just a bunch of invigorating, inflaming, unbeatable dance tunes - one "bodystorm" after another, with just as much energy as you'd wish there could be. No wonder, then, that Speaking In Tongues became the band's most commercially successful album in the blink of an eye; with the early hits and Tom Tom Club having prepared the scene, all that was needed was to convince the record-buying public of their not being as "dangerous" as one could suppose.

There's nothing dangerous-sounding about this album indeed. In a certain way, it's a conscious return to the early innocent days of '77: just a bunch of nerdy-lookin' tunes with classy danceable rhythms. The only two differences are (a) it no longer sounds all that fresh and (b) on the positive side, it certainly sounds more mature. Byrne may be singing his usual nonsense on more than half of the tracks, but he somehow makes me believe there's more to this nonsense than meets the eye, even if that may not be so. Shucks, nobody in the whole wide world could "decode" the "message" of 'Burning Down The House' - but the song has so much energy and conviction you just can't get rid of the feeling there is a message out there.

Speaking of individual songs, it's hard to make any preferences because everything is more or less structured according to the same formula. A stable funky rhythm, some quirky modernistic synth patterns to go along with it (nothing particularly awe-inspiring though), and Byrne screeching out the usual paranoia that makes even less sense than usual (and he's the first one to admit it, what with the 'still don't make no sense' references in 'Making Flippy Floppy' and the 'stop making sense' calls in 'Girlfriend Is Better'). The hit single 'Burning Down The House' still stands out more than anything else, but that may be just because it's the very first song, and the one where the main vocal hook - the entire band joyfully yelling 'burning down the house!' - is more clearly defined than on any other number. It's really really catchy, of course, but after several listens, so are most other songs.

The post-disco murder of 'Pull Down The Roots' might just be my second favourite... or maybe not. Still don't make no sense anyway. Maybe it's a bit more dangerous sounding than the tunes that surround it. Reminds of 'The Great Curve' from a very distant past. But really, I don't even want to mention the rest of the songs, because it's not interesting. What could I say here? 'Uh, dude, this song has a great funky rhythm, and the next one follows it up with an even better funky rhythm, and the next one is a little less engaging, but still good?'. I'm sick of that shit already. I mean, it's essentially similar to the Big Drone on More Songs, only less innovative. Take the accessibility and relative simplicity of '77, throw in the monotonousness of More Songs, mix with the paranoia of Fear Of Music, and you got yourself this album. Does that mean it's bad? Not at all. It's quirky, poppy, captivating and if your shoulders don't jerk up and down and up and down as the music goes by, you got yourself a serious nervous disorder, sir. But it's definitely a regress, and the Heads would never be the same again.



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

It looks like sometimes, Talking Bodies are just as important as Talking Heads.

Best song: unanswerable

Track listing: 1) Psycho Killer; 2) Heaven; 3) Thank You For Sending Me An Angel; 4) Found A Job; 5) Slippery People; 6) Burning Down The House; 7) Life During Wartime; 8) Making Flippy Floppy; 9) Swamp; 10) What A Day That Was; 11) This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody); 12) Once In A Lifetime; 13) Genius Of Love; 14) Girlfriend Is Better; 15) Take Me To The River; 16) Crosseyed And Painless.

In 1984, a man made a movie about a band and the fate of documentary cinema was changed forever. The man's name was Jonathan Demme, and the band's name was Cinderella. Well, no, not really. But then again, it is very much due to the talents of Demme as a director that Stop Making Sense is so often hailed as the ultimate "rockumentary" and the exact right way to film a rock concert, and, in many critics' and viewers' eyes, has since then formed a Holy Trio along with The Last Waltz and The Kids Are Alright (although the latter actually belongs to the "retrospective" class rather than being dedicated to a single event). Sure enough, the Heads had a lot to do with it, but it's also a case of how you do it, too.

Not that I would really know. I haven't seen the movie as I'm sitting writing this review, and, although that's a big minus in my life and may eventually lead to premature hair loss and claustrophobia, it also gives me a major advantage in that I can review the accompanying live soundtrack as an independent live album and not really as a soundtrack. I do not see all of David Byrne's frantic moves, grimaces, and little tap dances; I am not wooed over by Tina's girlish hairstyle and cute facial features (even the photos in the booklet are kinda small); and I do not waste time analyzing all the intricacies of Demme's camera work. I am just listening to pretty pretty music.

And, although I am very much pleased by what I hear - I have also to admit that The Name Of This Band Is No Longer Talking Heads. Okay, so formally it still is Talking Heads, but, according to strict Confucian procedures, it needs some rectification at least. Maybe Whispering Heads will do. Or Talking Hats. Or Babbling Sinciputs. This is a very, very different band even from the one that did the megatouring with Adrian Belew And Friends four years before, let alone the one that presented its brand new style in the CBGB district seven years ago. Sure this was obvious judging by the major change of style on Speaking In Tongues already, but studio albums are one thing, after all, and live presentations are two things: introducing the already known material and giving us new creative ways of enjoying and comprehending it. This second thing is anything but fully realised.

Case in question: 'Life During Wartime'. I love the song. It's a bitchin' motherfucker of a song, that's how much I love it. It's got the dumbest, simplest, most primitive, and completely awesome dance groove that was ever consumed by mass consumption. But just how the heck, exactly, can anybody improve - nay, not improve, modify - that song in concert? It's locked in so tightly, from all the angles, that there's absolutely no space for creativity, not one iota subject to change. The only possible ways are (a) introduce new, heretofore hidden, sections, signature changes and whatnot, which would be cheating or (b) extend it with guitar solos and suchlike, which could be boring and predictable, especially now that Belew is no longer part of the touring band, too busy demolishing the sonic limit with King Crimson. Okay, they give it a nice teasing thirty-second intro, which is a fun way to make a contrast with the main groove. But then what? Nothing. Same effect as the studio.

Now let us not forget, 'Life During Wartime' was the most polished song on Fear Of Music, its main commercial appeal and its less changeable entity; pretty much everything else, bar maybe 'Heaven', was still well adaptable to scenic experimentation. But now Speaking In Tongues has initiated the process of the Talking Heads' transformation from a groove-based band into a hook-based band, where melody and memorability come first and chugging interlocking unpredictably syncopated riffs come second, a transformation that wouldn't be complete until Little Creatures but which nevertheless is well underway. And this is where the Demme movie comes in - at the crossroads.

What I am reviewing here is the new "special edition" of the album; just like The Name..., it does a good job of heavily expanding the original LP and giving us the benefit of a near-entire performance (as far as I know, though, a few songs are still missing on the CD but can be found in the movie, most importantly, 'Cities'). Six out of sixteen songs are from Speaking In Tongues; out of the rest, approximately half are hits and radio standards, and just a few oldies and novelties are also thrown in for good measure. Alas, while I do have the advantage of not comparing anything with the movie, I don't have the advantage of not being able to compare with the older live album - and out of the seven overlapping songs, there ain't one that I wouldn't like better or, at best, equally well on The Name.... In particular, 'Found A Job', with its measly three minutes, sounds positively wretched when compared to the mammoth job they did back in 1978; in the final section, the triumphant martial chords played over the cool funky drone have been replaced by geeky "blip"-like plucking. Goodbye, power aspect of the band, hello, nerdy aspect.

They do try to make the proceedings interesting, I'll admit. The image of Byrne opening the show with just an acoustic and a drum machine pattern from a tape recorder, playing a version of 'Psycho Killer' that has so little to do with the original, is well-known. But the drum machine is silly - and not even funny; an acoustic-only performance would probably be far more suitable. Much better overall is 'Heaven', when Tina lugs out the bass and joins David on backing vocals as well. Finally, the entire band is assembled during 'Thank You For Sending Me An Angel' (the one song that never made it to the previous live album and thus deserves to be specially mentioned), and by the fourth track, Byrne has finally switched to electric. Even so, there's no denying that this "human crescendo" is supposed to work much better on video than in the purely aural version, where you just have to be guessing what's exactly going on.

Minor surprises include two of the tracks. In between their last two studio albums, the band members also had solo careers, and they want you to know it. Byrne gets to sing 'What A Day That Was', from The Catherine Wheel, a magnificent version which, I'm not afraid to say, is more reminiscent of the band's early glory days than some of the actual songs that date to the actual days. On the contrary, the Tom Tom Club hit 'Genius Of Love' is, let's say, controversial. Okay, let's cut it straight and say it's very, very stupid, but stupid in a postmodern way of being stupid, where the difference between stupid and smart is blurred to the point of not existing. It's a butterfly-light dance pop tune, all groove and giggle and amazingly clumsy references to James Brown, but it's way too nerdy to be truly offensive; at any rate, one cannot take the same kind of offense at this number/style that one might take at early (or late) Madonna.

In the end, however, it all boils down to one major complaint: this version of the Conversing Craniums places almost as much, if not just as much, if not a lot more emphasis on keyboards than on guitars, and the word of the law is unambiguous: guitar-driven bands go to shit once that happens. All that differs is the degree of the shit in question. Here, thanks to the band's professionalism, the good vibes, great song material, clever sequencing, and other additional factors that you can fill in yourself, it all works. (Yes, I know everything in this review up to this point was insisting that it didn't work, but sometimes one positive word is worth a whole sack of negative ones, you know). Elsewhere, it may not be working. In any case, just rent the video - if you want to get to know the real Talking Heads, the band that broke the rules and made history during the "silver years" of rock, concentrate on The Name. If you want to know Communicating Cervices, the half-guitar, half-synth-pop outfit that made crazy seem cool, conquered the radio and toured big arenas in the mid-Eighties, just get Little Creatures or something.



Year Of Release: 1985
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

"This is pop", Andy Partidge woulda said. Yeah yeah.


Track listing: 1) And She Was; 2) Give Me Back My Name; 3) Creatures Of Love; 4) The Lady Don't Mind; 5) Perfect World; 6) Stay Up Late; 7) Walk It Down; 8) Television Man; 9) Road To Nowhere.

O Brother Eno, where art Thou? Lo and behold, with Thy guiding hand missing and Thy correcting eye absent and Thy ever vigilant ear so far away, look what Thy humble servants have done. They have gone and recorded a simple, basic pop album, with none of Thy miraculous directions or unpredictable atmospheres... Oh? What's that Thou art saying? "Backwater"?

The Talking Heads certainly lack the ability to produce an entirely "normal" album. But Little Creatures definitely pushes them in that direction - no doubt, the commercial success of Speaking In Tongues was a serious factor, although I also think that maybe, for once, Byrne just got tired of being constantly referred to as a freak or a geek or both. For the previous record, the Heads dropped their patented atmospherics; for this record, they go as far as to drop their patented guitar stylistics. Only a few of the songs still feature something reminiscent of the classic Harrison/Byrne interplay - most are more or less straightforward as far as guitar rhythm tracks go. Some pop rhythms, some standard funky ones, and even a friggin' country influence in places. Heh.

But the good thing is, these songs are all good! Look at it this way: a true "sellout" would be a typical Eighties sellout. In other words, had Byrne and Co. wanted to take it the easy way, this album would have sounded like Tears For Fears, only without the Tears part, more like Cheers For Fears, if you get my drift. But it does not. This is real, solid, well-produced music, with good drums and good bass and lotsa non-generic guitars and the keyboards kept in their proper place throughout. Everything sounds great. And here comes the best thing of all - the hooks.

The album, as befits a good Heads album, is laiden with hooks throughout. They might not come out at once, particularly not if you spent the previous three years of your life adjusting to the ethereal paranoia of Fear Of Music and now, all of a sudden, find yourself face to face with the necessity to go back where you started. (And I do mean back - 'Uh-Oh Love Comes To Town' would not feel out of place on this record). And I certainly understand where one could feel disappointed: after all, Fear Of Music had both the pop hooks and the post-modernistic weirdness. But don't be stuffy!

I mean, how can one be stuffy while digesting the happy chingle-changle of the glorious pop anthem 'And She Was', opening the album? And when it opens the album, you kinda feel that it will match its cover very perfectly. An album of short, innocent, joyful, inoffensive, and very peaceful and soothing pop songs. None of the darkness, none of the gloom, leave that in the past. Too much pain and suffering anyway. You want pain and suffering, go put on some friggin' Tears For Fears instead. The world doesn't need any more paranoia! Depression! Suicidal tendencies! Let's be merry! (Wait a minute... but the lyrics? The lyrics? Aren't they about a dying person? A soul leaving a dead body or something? Aw, who cares about the lyrics anyway? Let's have fun!).

Shit, now my inner voice got me all derailed. Mmm, an album can't be all that joyful when one of its best songs begins with the phrase 'last time she jumped out of the window, well, she only turned and smiled'. Not that 'The Lady Don't Mind' is about death; more like drugged out hallucinations, if you axe me. But whatever, I'll leave interpretations up to you. The important thing is, it's just a great song, with skaish overtones, pleasant vibrating guitars, and lots and lots of ambivalent-soundin' "uh-oh, uh-oh"s for your personal consumption.

Some of the songs come dangerously close to banality (for the Heads' standards, that is) - like the countryish 'Creatures Of Love': 'well I've seen sex and I think it's alright, it makes those little creatures come to life'? Well, whatever... it actually doesn't look that bad on the lyrics sheet. It's when Byrne and Co. sing 'we are creatures, creatures of love', that some might accuse the band of hickiness, but that would be WRONG. And I actually dig the laid back guitar work on that track. In fact, I've been missing that kind of guitar work ever since nineteen seventy-seven! That's how long it took!

You want more names? Well, 'Walk It Down' is sort of a clumsy plodding little synth-bubble-enhanced funkster which immediately becomes three times as memorable when it gets to the chorus (verses and choruses in general are seriously 'contrasting' on all the songs here, which, of course, is the primary recipe for a pop classic). 'Television Man' is also extremely solid, but I can never wait until Byrne gets to the 'na na na na - na na na' part, which is very much In Tongues-like, and I can never understand why he sings 'I-I-I-I-I-I' exactly in the same manner as the Monkees on 'I-I-I-I-I'm Not Your Stepping Stone'. And the album actually ends with an anthemic song this time around, represented by 'Roads To Nowhere'. When was the last time the Heads ended their album with an anthemic singalong to raise your spirit? I certainly couldn't remember that.

These are not all the songs, but believe me, it's oh so much of an even album. Pretend I already described all of them. The important thing is, for 1985 standards this is simply an excellent record.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Put it this way: wouldn't this album RULE if it were put out by Duran Duran?


Track listing: 1) Love For Sale; 2) Puzzlin' Evidence; 3) Hey Now; 4) Papa Legba; 5) Wild Wild Life; 6) Radio Head; 7) Dream Operator; 8) People Like Us; 9) City Of Dreams.

Hailed by pretty much every critic alive as the Heads' worst album (consider yourself warned), it's actually not half-bad. In fact, it is good - a strong overall ten bordering on a weak eleven - and having analyzed all the immense loads of shit poured on these songs over the years ('simplistic', 'cheesy', 'thin', 'derivative', 'dumb', you name it), I have no choice but to place it in the bag of "most unjustly trashed records ever", together with other minor pieces of delight like From Genesis To Revelation and Dylan's Selfportrait. There, point made.

This was originally a soundtrack to a cult (and apparently very much post-modernistic) movie about Texas and Texans, which Byrne directed himself. In the movie, all of the songs were performed by the corresponding actors; yet for some reason, later on Byrne insisted that the band record the soundtrack on its own. He has gone on record as saying that was a foolish decision on his part - and the fact that he himself holds the album in such low esteem is, of course, a strong argument against it - but I suspect such a reaction might have simply been possible after the violent lambasting the record got. Would Byrne dare to criticize this work of his had it gotten rave reviews from everybody? I doubt that.

Anyway, the main reason I lump this record in with the two previously mentioned ones is that they both share the same disadvantage - they present the artist in an intentionally (or unintentionally) 'lightweight' state. True Stories is, in a way, the logical end to the Heads' evolution: having dropped the New Wave schtick for the previous record, they are now dropping the complex song structure. This is merely a collection of nine very simple pop songs. It's not like there ain't no creativity at all, because Byrne tackles quite a few styles on the record, it's just that apparently much less effort was spent making these songs. It's definitely not at all what you came to expect from one of the world's most enigmatic bands.

But the obvious thing is just to take it for what it is - place it in the category of 'easy' pop music. There's a time for spiritual revelations and there's a time for cryptic lyrical messages and then there's just a time for fun. And speaking of fun, it is perhaps no coincidence that it is this album, and not any other, that hosts the most beautiful (as in, 'proverbially beautiful' - not 'weirdly beautiful' like 'Memories Can't Wait' or something like that) ballad ever written by the band - the luscious, ethereal country-folk sendup 'Dream Operator'. (Well, hell, it's a film about Texas, and you want Byrne to not try his hand at country balladeering? You're pressin' your luck, pal!). Yup, it's a song that's probably more suitable for the Eagles than the Heads, disregarding the little detail that the Eagles all put together didn't have a tenth of the genius of Mr Byrne. So what? If I meet a beautiful, tastefully arranged country-folk ballad, I'm supposed to dump it because it's too "simplistic" for the Talking Heads? Nope, sorry, don't buy that logic and never will.

The funny fact is, there's not a single "essentially bad" song on the album. If there are problems, they're not with the main melody. 'Puzzlin' Evidence', for instance, is a hilarious little rocker with spooky organ and tasty vocal hooks. It merely goes on for too long and runs out of steam pretty fast - as a two and a half minute song, it works, as a five and a half minute song it kinda loses me somewhere in the middle (well, all of me except for that annoying right foot of mine which can't resist tappin' and tappin'). Same with the not particularly convincing "tribal" excourse of 'Papa Legba', which essentially is to 'I Zimbra' and suchlike what the Stones' 'Dancing With Mr D' is to 'Sympathy For The Devil': more like an unintentional self-parody than a serious development of the ethnic themes. But, like the Stones song, it's perfectly listenable and still a good goof after all this time.

Actually, if we're speaking of great pop songs, the first side only has one of them - the magnificent opening rocker 'Love For Sale' (a little Midnight Oil-like in style), which proves that had the Talking Heads wanted to take the hard rock route instead of the nerdy New Wave route, they might have made it without any problems. But the second side is extremely consistent. You got the joyful material existence anthem 'Wild Wild Life', with an unbeatable chorus and unmatched optimism; you got the zydeco experiment 'Radio Head', which, I admit, can sound a bit dumb, but so can 'I Am The Walrus' - but you won't hear me pick on a song that has a 'picking up something good...' chorus that's impossible to get out of your head, and besides, it's the song that directly earned an insignificant little Nineties band its title; you got the already mentioned 'Dream Operator'; you got the almost equally uplifting country rave-up 'People Like Us' - don't kill me, but I think its friendly, endearing portrayal of the "little people" blows up the entire castle of Bruce Springsteen's loser-or-winner drama in one second; and the pretty anthemic album closer 'City Of Dreams' - replace Byrne's vocals with Neil Young on that one and the song will be revered as a minor gem in the Neil catalog.

Whatever. If I've been on the defensive for too much, it's only because it's one of those rare cases when I sense a dire case of injustice in the air. Okay, it is the worst Heads album (well, I haven't heard Naked yet) - but the important thing is that the Heads haven't released one bad album. Ever. And by and large, this one at least boasts the honour of being the most humane Talking Heads album ever. So I can understand how some might actually like it more than anything else.


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