PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Talking Heads: 77 / More Songs About Buildings and Food / Fear of Music / Remain in Light [DualDisc

Following last year's career-spanning Brick box set, the first four studio albums from the seminal art-pop band are reissued as individual DualDiscs.


Talking Heads

More Songs About Buildings and Food

Subtitle: DualDisc reissues
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2006-01-10
UK Release Date: 2006-01-16
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Insound affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Talking Heads

Talking Heads: 77

Subtitle: DualDisc reissue
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2006-01-10
UK Release Date: 2006-01-16
Insound affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Talking Heads

Fear of Music

Subtitle: DualDisc reissue
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2006-01-10
UK Release Date: 2006-01-16
Insound affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Talking Heads

Remain in Light

Subtitle: DualDisc reissue
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2006-01-10
UK Release Date: 2006-01-16
Insound affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Three albums and two years in, Talking Heads stood flush against a wall. They'd gotten there, to the oppressive and paranoid Fear of Music (1979), quickly and economically; they'd reached the logical end to their nerve-frayed means. If there were to be a future for this crew of three RISD students and one ex-Modern Lover, it would have to exist skyward. Up and out.

The band would take its leap of faith and find release one year later with Remain in Light, the best album it ever made; until then, there was darkness that needed confronting. Fear of Music was stifling, hyperventilating music made at the dawn of the Reagan era, a new-wave rendering of a social hypochondriac's conspiratorial rant. The utilitarian song titles -- "Mind", "Paper", "Cities", "Air", "Heaven", "Drugs" -- are low-profile attempts to draw attention away from the Big Brother ruminations within: here are secrets about your government, about your life, about futility and existence, but shhhh you didn't hear it from me... they're listening.

At times the lyrics are claustrophobic inner dialogues made audible. In "Cities", David Byrne answers his own questions in a darting, spooked-out delivery that suggests the best thing for the narrator would be to stay away from urban areas; elsewhere, they're explicitly instructional and harried, like the detailed scare tactics disseminated in "Life During Wartime": "You oughta know not to stand by the window / Somebody might see you up there." There are fleeting moments when we're compelled to believe Byrne's paranoia, like when his voice is nearly consumed by synthesizers on "Mind", every vowel sound he exhaustively hangs onto perilously exposed and at the mercy of machines.

Still, Fear of Music is an album that opens with a song of chanted nonsense ("I Zimbra"), so although the flashing red lights are everywhere, it's hard to know who we should be trusting. Since their convulsive, anxious debut, Talking Heads: 77, Talking Heads had been difficult to pin down. The music they made, jolted and nervous like that of the emerging new wave, was anything but linear: images and ideas were but part of a fleeting randomness; words resisted rhyme and endured somewhat maniacal repeating; and Byrne's vocal delivery, like that of a rabid recluse, was a bloodshot lunge of anti-pop. Bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz were, along with Byrne, students from the Rhode Island School of Design who, after forming the band, packed up and headed off to New York City. They didn't look like rockers or punks were expected to look in 1977; they dressed up in deceptive normality, in plaid shirts and lecture-attending attire, even when opening for the leather-clad Ramones at NYC's famed CBGB club.

After picking up Jerry Harrison from Jonathon Richman's Modern Lovers, Talking Heads released Talking Heads: 77 in the fall of the same year. It was an album built on an alien, eccentric group characteristic, one that was simultaneously herky-jerky, prickly, and funny. Amid the thorny guitars, 77 is stuffed with boasts ("I've been to college, I've been to school / I've met the people that you read about in books" goes one of the first admissions in "Uh-oh, Love Comes to Town"), non sequiturs ("Don't Worry About the Government" is about...buildings?), and the downright bizarro ("Psycho Killer" being one of the oddest songs to ever find a place in classic rock radio rotation -- proving that your weirdness will be unconditionally embraced as long as it comes with a catchy hook). There was also evidence of the band's gale-force live show in songs like "Pulled Up", which matched the rhythm section's groove obsession with Byrne's unpredictable vocals careening off the rails.

1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food (its title a self-referential jab at 77 and the sophomore album "syndrome") sounds like the work of a band that suddenly got it: the quirks and the tugs are more calculated, the twitching ends come together and fuse into one gyrating whole. Suddenly the lil' arty band-that-could possessed a sense of purpose, as if it were on a road to somewhere. Recorded in the Bahamas, More Songs About Building and Food was Talking Heads' first collaboration (of many) with producer Brian Eno, who helped rein in their panicky sound. The opening track "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel", for example, carries the wound-up tension of 77, but the nervousness is cleanly taut. The chord changes are announced in little Townshendian gestures, windmills that explode like awakened synapses -- but it's never big music (Frantz's militaristic drum pattern pays no mind to it all, as he never touches a cymbal for the song's entire two minutes). The looming chorus of "The Good Thing" is executed in robotic cadences; even the lines themselves ("A straight line exists between me and the good things / I have found the line and its direction is known to me") are clinical and eerily matter-of-fact.

Whether it was under the influence of Eno, the album's geographical setting, or merely the band's influences, funk began to emanate from Talking Heads: songs like "Found a Job", "Artists Only", and "I'm Not in Love" were dictated by wiry punches, and the left-field cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River" implied that the band had more than pieces of New York's punk scene in its fractured head. The explicit R&B connection that "Take Me to the River" made was perhaps a way to validate the band's decisive branching-out; its wooden-legged rhythm and somewhat zealous intensity were both obsessive and detached, giving the band (perhaps unexpectedly) its first hit single.

By the time they made it to Remain in Light (1980), Talking Heads had thoroughly integrated numerous elements of African music into their own. Repetitive electric guitar motifs (reminiscent of Afropop), polyrhythmic percussion, and multi-voiced melodies in unison are as central to the album's sound as Byrne's idiosyncratic songs. "Born Under Punches (The Beat Goes On") and "Crosseyed and Painless" use the foundations of African and American funk music as liberators, not constrictors (which was perhaps Fear of Music's inaccessible mistake) -- as a result, they're bigger, more breathtaking loops of expressive pulsations. "Houses in Motion" and "Seen and Not Seen" are more reserved instances of this newfound freedom; the band had learned that subtle, airtight vamps didn't necessarily require a stranglehold to build tension. If Talking Heads harbored hopes of transforming themselves into a new definition of an R&B band, then Remain in Light was the closest they ever got to realizing that goal.

Byrne's lyrics are as obtuse and impressionistic as always on Remain in Light, but he had become increasingly preoccupied with the concept of shape-shifting -- relevant, no doubt, to Talking Heads' continued transformation. The very first line of the album ("Take a look at these hands") is not only an invitation, but a self-conscious narrative awakening. The line is repeated numerous times, as if Byrne himself can't quite believe what he's seeing. Later, Byrne notes that he "lost [his] shape" and is "changing [his] shape"; he's "walking a line" in a consciousness where "facts all come with points of view...facts just twist the truth around". The spoken word monologue in "Seen and Not Seen" describes the altering of appearances through some kind of visual osmosis or intense willpower. The most famous instance of this acknowledgment of transformation is "Once in a Lifetime", which spawned the iconic big-suit video, a question-heavy meditation on what's real, what's only perceived as real, and, most importantly, what's changed, all played out over a gurgling backing track that bubbles with a similar curiosity.

Here, at the moment of Talking Heads' first major reinvention, they still thirst for answers and hunger for reasons; at the height of a fertile three-year period, the band plays as though all of its discoveries were only mere clues leading to an even greater revelation. Whether or not they lost the thread following their next album, Speaking in Tongues (which, incidentally, took them three years to make), is up for debate. It's also irrelevant. As their first four albums demonstrate, Talking Heads had already found something wholly indefinable by 1980, something instigated by quirk, stimulated by fear, and liberated by possibility.

Following last year's career-spanning Brick box set (which replaced the cumbersome Once in a Lifetime box from 2003), Rhino Records is now releasing all of the Talking Heads' albums as individual DualDiscs. The first four albums discussed here have just hit shelves with the final four to arrive in one month. Per usual, the Rhino editions present a considerable upgrade in both audio quality and packaging, especially considering that Talking Heads' catalog had previously only been available on CD as horribly outdated, flat transfers. The fidelity sounds resurrected, or at least revitalized, ushering crucial bass lines to the front of the mix (the booming bass of "I Zimbra" had been inaudible on the original CD transfer), making the punchy bits punchier (both 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food snap like untouched elastic), and, in the case of Fear of Music and Remain in Light, allowing the mixes to breath. There isn't a wealth of new bonus tracks included: songs like "Love --> Building on Fire" and "Sugar on My Tongue" have already been made available on past collections, while alternate versions of a few songs from More Songs and Fear of Music are unfocused and impenetrable, respectively. The DVD sides of the DualDiscs offer, in addition to the now-trendy 5.1 surround sound mixes, a few live videos per disc, most of which are viciously relentless. Regardless, the extras here are supplemental, incidental stuff, taking a backseat to the original albums themselves.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.