Talking Heads: 77 (1977)
One word: confusion. What’s all the confusion about? Hmmm. One of my friends rightly (I think) declared he was “shocked and appalled” that I didn’t add this debut to a list of recommended listening wherein I haplessly added the obvious titles.
Is it punk? Yes. Preppy polished punk. Is that punk? Yeah, why not? Heads give us the archetypal feel of the twenty-something; confused and dazed, content and uninterested, then confused and intrigued with right and wrong decisions – it’s punk less the outer anger, it’s The Velvet Underground less the anti-everything, just anti-somethings. We’ll call it “new wave”. I’ve always thought of Byrne’s lyrics as mumbo-jumbo rants of a schizophrenic, but there’s meaning. He may be embarrassed to convey with a weird twitch or yelp to cover up how he feels, but it’s there – “I’m spinning around but I feel alright/The book I read was in your eyes”.
The Caribbean vibe is there at the beginning which only Talking Heads could manage on a [white] record. From then on it’s up and down, happy and sad, confused, decisive, indecisive, not caring, caring. Jesus Christ. It’s good, though, very good. “Tentative Decisions” – boys want to talk about their problems, girls want to listen; then a transition, girls have problems and boys are concerned. What are the problems? Sex maybe. No gender inequality here, no sir. “Who Is It?” is frenetic – Who? What? Where? Byrne isn’t quite there… yet. “Every appointment has been moved to last week” – is he losing interest? Does he care any longer? – “This report’s incomplete (I can see for myself)”. It’s about the working world, the fucking working world.
“Psycho Killer”, one of the band’s most decorated singles has Byrne exclaiming he actually does care, and he’s back as the dazed, psychotic youth with a yearning for an ideal world – “I hate people when they’re not polite”. As he states in “Don’t Worry About the Government” – “Don’t worry about me”. But I’m concerned about you, David I must admit. But wait for it; we’re finally there with “Pulled Up”. He’s happy with his lot. We realised he was down, but there’s hope – “I was complaining, I was down in the dumps/I feel so strong now ‘cause you pulled me up”. Who’s “you”? Beats me. The listener? The other band members?
More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
Yes I put it off because the title is shit, and no, this isn’t shit. Brian Eno has now joined the fray and they’re a bit grittier, a bit more “look at me”. Eno likes production, and it’s much produced, and funkier. This album still carries with it topics, burdens and ideas from its predecessor; academically smarmy – “I look out the window/(And) I call that education”, work problems – “If your job isn’t what you love, something isn’t right”, and… buildings.
I thought the CONFUSION was over, though, David; you don’t need love and then you’re longing for it, but it doesn’t bother me, because “I’m Not in Love” is just new life, it’s like music has just been invented. Thank you, Chris Frantz. It’s funk with spunk, get-up-and-at-‘em music. It’s forward momentum, meeting obstacles head on when 77 was a bit more whimsical. I don’t mind whimsical, though. The music is more confident, Tina Weymouth is offering backing vocals and the leadman’s wail of “I don’t have to prove… that I’m creative!” solidifies their confidence, but it’s frustration; they’re still not the best, not yet. They’ll get there.
It’s a forward-moving, vibrant album no doubt, but some elements are rooted in the past. The finale could be a quint country town being overrun and smothered by modernisation, capitalism and… buildings. Yeah, buildings, I get that bit now. More likely, however, pieced together to counteract the enjoyment of living and working in buildings. Who doesn’t love some architectural ambiguity?
Fear of Music (1979)
It’s dark funk, not black funk, it’s bleak. There isn’t a fear of music, far from it; it’s their most diverse effort yet. They’re now full-out funking; it’s highlife music with Western “sensibilities”. What’s the fear about you may ask? Oh just everything – animals, cities, war, death and ah, breathing… Byrne’s transition into full fruitcake mode is infectious; it’s listenable, it’s always listenable. He makes sense without making sense, if that makes sense. Like he says in “Mind” – “I haven’t got the faintest idea”. Oh, but he does.
Eno is now hitting his eccentric stride along with his chaotic counterpart. “Cities” is one of the most catchy tracks ever made, chugging Nile Rodgers-like guitar and keyboards clattering by its side. Byrne is afraid of all these cities, he wants one to live in but keeps throwing in negative points to sway his decision – “Good points, some bad points”, and look, food – “Do I smell? I smell home cooking”. I thought that was the last record? Anyway, is Byrne’s urban utopia being attacked in “Life During Wartime”? Is he lost in his utopia? – “I got three passports, a couple of visas/You don’t even know my real name”.
As a whole, Heads don’t lose who they are even in the middle of the Eno influence; “Paper” sounds like New York, it’s Television. “Memories Can’t Wait” is post-punk/dark-wave; “I Zimbra” is their African sound. “Heaven” is respite, with their forward-moving funk ethic it may be difficult to adapt to a more serene soiree after a barrage of bipolar beats, but it’s nice. “Drugs” sounds like Neu!… actually I’m convinced a Neu! track was slipped in there – “Somebody said, ‘There’s too much light’”. The next album, wait for it.
Remain in Light (1980)
Byrne’s obsession with buildings has me pondering that he’s as real as it gets. “And I’m not a burning building!” He sings about real things, physical things – houses, buildings, factories. As he stated “love is kind of big”. The second side of this record is not before its time; all of its individual components have been done before, but Heads mould it together with the first side, somehow. It’s 1980, and it’s Talking Heads.
The first three tracks are a joyous triumph; it’s Africa and Kraftwerk in your ears. Epiphanies such as “The world moves on a woman’s hips!” and “A world of light… she’s gonna open our eyes up!” have you considering has he just discovered women. More conceivably they’re the givers of life, without them there’s no life, no light. Now I must confess I never saw how the rest of the album tied in with the opening trio. They’ve done post-punk/dark-wave before but never alongside rapturous funk like this. How could they? I get it now, though – it’s goes from the bright, florescent afrofunk synthesisers to Joy Division, light to dark, try to remain in light. I had my epiphany.
Is the opener about governmental oppression, or Byrne’s positive workmanlike attitude? I’m still confused on that one. “Seen and Not Seen” – we’re edging nearer darkness, “Listening Wind” – a nod to the real Americans – Natives before colonisation, it’s gorgeous and wispy. “The Overload” is Ian Curtis. He obviously didn’t have the same epiphany I had.
Speaking in Tongues (1983)
Okay I’m looking into the lyrics far too much, scrutinising every syllable. There’s no point, it’s gibberish, indecipherable, opaque – “Make it up as we go along”. Who gives a fiddler’s fuck when you’re getting sweet delicious disco funk like this? Eno has left the building (sorry) and now the beats seem more controlled, warmer, less turbulent. Was he the fear all along? “I” is replaced by “we” as a transition to the post-Eno era commences.
They were always a band, but now they’re the band, the band that everyone wants to be. We’re in the mid ‘80s now remember which is riddled with hairspray synthpop and glam metal spandex. More preppy African beats please. Please. We’re still envisioning burning buildings from the previous record. “Pull Up the Roots” will have you pulling up the dance floor, go nuts, like Byrne. “Girlfriend Is Better” – have you found your love now, David?
The vibe is far less pretentious, more listenable, more welcoming. I like pretentious, though, and sometimes I don’t like listenable and welcoming. But I do here. All the songs are catchy, never out of place and I feel cosy.
Little Creatures (1985)
Their music is appropriated by blacks and whites. That’s world music. I love it when different influences merge. This is more Fleetwood Mac than Chic in spots which doesn’t bother me. It’s more foot-stomping and head-nodding than spasmodic convulsions; it’s back-to-basics rock. Well, back to their basics, which is batshit crazy for the rest of humanity. You could argue it’s back to what they know. Maybe.
There’s something a bit more cryptic about the lyricism but at the same time less obscure if you dive in, which I thought they avoided before. “Give me back my name/Something has been changed in my life” – is this marriage? It follows “Creatures of Love” – “Well, I’ve seen sex and I think it’s okay”.
Though blacks and whites can join hands at the table of brotherhood in relation to their music, the UK were always more sympathetic towards their aesthetic than the US, I never really understood that. Americans like security, they like safe, and this album is safe(r) but absolutely not detrimental. “Television Man” is close to what they’ve conjured up before; it’s dancy with that familiar Weymouth deep-tone. I miss the bombarding rhythms a bit to be fair. Commercialism.
True Stories (1986)
“Green Giant” rock – corny. That was corny, Cornception. I don’t know which was worse; the “punk” “Love for Sale” or the accordion in “Radio Head” which I thought was an organ. I need an organ donor. Now if you listened to this record first you might think it’s… nah actually.
It’s still a fine rock album but I don’t want that, not at all. Some elements are angelically-driven (“Puzzlin’ Evidence”), African-feeling (“Papa Legba”) and warm (“City of Dreams”), but it’s not “them”, whatever “them” is.
Caribbean, corny, cringe. I don’t mind as much here, however. The beginning is hilariously overelaborate with bombarding bongos, something about a lad called Jones and some sort of jazz.
Hang on, David, some comprehensible lyrics, where was this before? The middle of the record is glossy gloriousness. Legendary axeman Johnny Marr has joined the party and “(Nothing But) Flowers” is a masterstroke with beautifully fabricated occurrences of horticulture and nature taking over the corporate world as we see it, but then we miss our convenience and want to chop down our natural landscapes – “If this is paradise/I wish I had a lawnmower/You’ve got it, you’ve got it”. Up there lyrically with his most insightful and quick-witted.
Nice dark post-punkish “The Democratic Circus” jabbing the US government, but then what happens? “The Facts of Life” – “Love is a machine without a driver”, great I’m digging it, but why did it turn all high-pitched and happy? Why?