Talking Heads
Band Rating: 4

  • '77
  • More Songs About Buildings And Food
  • Fear Of Music
  • Remain In Light
  • The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads
  • Speaking In Tongues
  • Little Creatures
  • True Stories
  • Naked

    '77 (1977)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 13

    One of the more prominent pioneers of the new wave movement, the Heads already had their offbeat sensibility fully intact on their decidedly self-assured debut, along with an excellent facility for crafting catchy melodies right from the beginning.

    '77 is a collection of deeply quirky, neurotic pop songs, overflowing with the band's eccentric charm and highly unconventional pop hooks. Byrne is already in top form, delivering clever vocal melodies through his perpetually bizarre vocal workouts. The instrumentation matches the songs perfectly, proving that the band could work out a great sound for themselves even without Eno's tutelage.

    While the tracks are, for the most part, pop songs, this label can only be applied in the loosest possible sense. The tracks are deeply unorthodox and strange, from the martial rhythms applied to Tentative Decisions to the paranoid ranting of Psycho Killer, the band's first full fledged classic.

    No matter how strange the content becomes, however, the band never allows their idiosyncratic nature to obscure or mar the melodies therein, ensuring that even the oddest tracks are catchy and melodically accessible.

    With eleven strong tracks and absolutely no filler, '77 was a brilliant debut for the band, showcasing Byrne's skillful songwriting and vocal acrobatics and carving a very unique niche for the group in the new wave movement. Catchy, unpredictable and humorous, this is a set that displays a group with limitless potential and an already distinct, developed identity.

    More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 12

    The Heads sophomore effort is largely what one would expect, a set of jerky melodies embroidered with neurotic ranting courtesy of David Byrne. There is, however, one crucial disparity between MSABaF and its predecessor: the addition of new wave guru Brian Eno as producer.

    The changes Eno's inclusion induced are immediately evident; gone are the sparse, minimalist arrangements of the past, replaced with a much fuller, better defined sound. This sound brilliantly complements the Heads' work, and would continue to for the next two albums as well.

    The production also acts as a distraction for the album's chief weakness; while the melodies are strong, they're inferior to the material on their debut, which is only natural as much of the content consists of weaker tracks salvaged from the '77 sessions.

    Furthermore, for much of the album the sound is rather uniform, typical jerky pop tracks embellished with Eno's production. While they're certainly distinct enough to differentiate them from one another the sound still becomes somewhat samey, a pity as they'd doubtless seem stronger were they not surrounded by similar songs.

    The more distinctive tracks are somewhat uneven. While the band's cover of Take Me To The River is quite strong and certainly the most famous cut from the album, the closing The Big Country drags a bit as it's the longest track on the CD, and its lethargic country stylings can't even be redeemed by Byrne's elitist ramblings.

    Ultimately, however, the album is another strong outing for the Heads, and one that lays the foundation for further sonic exploration as the group prepares to take full advantage of their partnership with Eno.

    Fear Of Music (1979)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 14

    On their second collaboration with the father of new wave the band plunges deeper into the labyrinth of Eno's sonic textures, adopting a much darker sound in the process. This foray into a more aurally sophisticated sound coincides with Byrne's continuous growth as a songwriter, resulting in the band's best album to this point.

    Many have espoused the notion that the album can be deciphered by prefacing each title with the words 'fear of,' and while I regard that as a gross oversimplification it's undeniable that Byrne's paranoid wailings reach an all time high here, and that fear indeed composes a large part of the album's significantly darker sound.

    Despite this darker tone by no means is the album bereft of Byrne's usual wit, as indeed there's much humor to accompany the more serious sound. The core of the band's sound hasn't changed, it's merely presented through a more sonically developed filter.

    Classics abound on here, from the jerky paranoid anthem Life During Wartime to the bouncy Cities to the despairing catharsis of Heaven. There are no genuinely weak cuts (I still can't fathom the seemingly arbitrary vitriol and derision cast on Electric Guitar which, while not one of the stronger tracks, still seems perfectly adequate), and while the album maintains a certain tone there's still plenty of diversity so that boredom is never induced.

    The one song that seems out of place is I Zimbra, sporting world beats and magnificent guitar work from gust star Robert Fripp. While it fails to conform to the usual mold of the album it's still a good track and an effective album opener.

    From there on each track is well crafted by Byrne and brilliantly arranged by Eno, along with the subsequent album representing the best that union had to offer. Undoubtedly one of the top two Heads albums in my opinion, FoM reaches a new artistic peak for the band, a perfect marriage of sound and substance for the group.

    Remain In Light (1980)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 14

    By the time of his third collaboration with the group, Eno had even further entrenched himself as a creative force within the band, to the extent of claiming co-authorship on a number of tracks on the album. His mark is indelibly stamped on every song, as he weaves his experimental sonic tapestries throughout the entire run time.

    Furthermore, Adrian Belew, future King Crimson front man, plays guitar as a guest contributor throughout the album, his virtuoso playing brilliantly complementing Eno's aural textures.

    The first half of the album may very well be the group's best side of material, featuring the sonic fascination of Born Under Punches, the jerky charge of paranoia Crosseyed And Painless, the irresistible grooves of The Great Curve and the band's signature anthem Once In A Lifetime.

    After that brilliant beginning the album begins to falter a bit. The eccentric Houses In Motion and the tragic Native American tableau Listening Wind are both strong, albeit not up to the standards of the first half, but the remaining two songs are where one encounters the most trouble.

    The spoken word track Seen And Not Seen is highly interesting the first time through, but once one's listened to it there's really no conceivable reason to want to hear it again.

    The ominous dirge The Overload becomes monotonous quickly, drastically overstaying its welcome at a six minute run time as there's only a modicum of progression in the entire song.

    These flaws aside, however, the album remains a masterpiece, representing the pinnacle of what the band could achieve with Eno's guidance. Sonically mind-blowing with Byrne's deft songwriting, RiL joins FoM as the best the band had to offer.

    The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 14

    When Talking Heads' material was first issued on CD, this live album was curiously omitted from their discography, seemingly consigned to an irrevocable sentence of anonymity.

    This angered many fans who rate the album as the Heads' best live outing, superior to the far better known Stop Making Sense (which in turn was made famous by the Jonathan Demme concert film that the album functions as a soundtrack to).

    Fortunately Rhino rectified this oversight and released the album to disc and, in a move predictable to those familiar with Rhino reissues, added a plethora of bonus tracks.

    Thus the The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads, already a double album, became elongated to a run time of close to 160 minutes. Unlike most live albums, tNotBiTH isn't merely a recording of a single concert; rather it depicts the group's progress from their humble beginnings through the famous Remain In Light tour. This not only provides a fascinating overview of the band's development, but also makes for a highly diverse supply of live material.

    The tracks on the album itself are uniformly excellent, with precise playing, tremendous energy and just enough changes to make the songs interesting for those familiar with their studio counterparts.

    The instrumentation is stunning, with hyper complex rhythms being handled immaculately by the group (this instrumentation is further augmented by future King Crimson frontman guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew who performs on the Remain In Light tour and takes the material to even further heights).

    Each song is handled flawlessly, and intelligent track selections make for an immensely enjoyable listen. The changes to some tracks never mar the proceedings; on the contrary, they often sound even better and are always in keeping with the essence of the songs.

    As far as obscure live albums go, tNotBiTH is up there with King Crimson's vault release Absent Lovers as one of the best around. While it may not be as universally lauded as Live At Leeds or Get Your Ya-Ya's Out, it's still an incredible listen and a brilliant showcase for the band's live chops. While the studio incarnations of the set-list are likewise excellent, the album never feels redundant or superfluous and earns its place on the same shelves as Fear Of Music and Remain In Light.

    Speaking In Tongues (1983)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 13

    After a three year sabbatical the group returns sans Eno. The lack of Eno's studio wizardry is immediately apparent, as the sound on the album is considerably thinner than on the previous three outings.

    Fortunately, to compensate for this aural regression Byrne's songwriting is still quite strong, and in the end his array of hooks and melodies distract the listener from these sonic shortcomings.

    The album can best be described as neurotic dance pop, filled with hyper catchy jerky rhythms and clever vocal melodies.

    The most famous cut off the album is the infamous Burning Down The House, a fusion of ridiculous lyrics, bizarre vocal hooks and irresistibly catchy rhythms.

    Each song has something to offer, however, and while they're stylistically similar the skillful songwriting ensures that the sound never becomes monotonous.

    While the loss of Eno was unfortunate, the band made the wise decision that rather than attempt to capture the sound of the previous three albums themselves they simply chose another direction that best complemented their abilities. The result is a highly enjoyable foray into the Heads' unconventional vision of dance pop, an environment wherein the loss of Eno was less of a liability and the band could continue to function at a high level.

    Little Creatures (1985)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 13

    To follow up their most commercially successful album, the Heads opted to release an LP of comparatively mainstream pop songs, albeit still preserving the eccentric identity of the band.

    Since losing Eno Byrne was forced to work that much harder on his songwriting, and this album acts as a showcase for just how much he's grown with regards to his pop craftsmanship.

    LC boasts a plethora of strong, catchy melodies, brilliantly translating the band's style into a more commercial pop context. Each track sports myriad hooks and irresistible melodies, yet the surrealism of songs like Give Me Back My Name dispel any worries that the band had sacrificed their idiosyncratic nature.

    The album manages to contain a considerable amount of diversity for an album this short (under 40 minutes), from the country send-up Creatures Of Love to the poppy anthem And She Was to the martial rhythms of Road To Nowhere, enabling each song to truly stand out.

    The perfect marriage of the band's offbeat sensibility to the commercial pop genre, the album manages to find a perfect balance between artistic ambition and mainstream aspirations. While some might scoff at it and dismiss it as a sellout, this actually seems like a natural direction for the band to take; the sonic explorations of the Eno epoch were over, and the quirky pop style of LC hearkens back to the band's sound on their debut, albeit far more polished. Without Eno the foundation of the group reverted to Byrne's impeccable songwriting, and in this regard the album is largely an extension of where the band would be if they had never crossed paths with the father of new wave.

    True Stories (1986)
    Page Rating: 4
    Overall Rating: 8

    As the story goes, Byrne directed a film called True Stories, complete with an original soundtrack that he composed. Whereas the songs were actually sung by the actors in the film, Byrne elected to remake the entire soundtrack with the band and turned it into a full fledged Heads album.

    This was a rather poor idea, and since then Byrne's expressed his remorse for that decision, as by no means does the material here merit the band's involvement.

    The content on the album is generic and pedestrian by the band's standards, and worst of all the tracks don't sound like they're by the Heads (save Byrne's instantly recognizable vocals).

    In the past the Heads experimented with a multitude of styles, yet somehow they always retained a certain feel that identified the content as theirs. On TS, however, the content simply feels standard bordering on mediocrity, the type of material any faceless 80's outfit could churn out.

    Most of the material isn't actively bad; on the contrary, most of it's passable, at least for a group of lesser stature. The songs, however, are largely overlong, expending their full range in the opening minute then carrying on interminably until they degenerate into tedious affairs.

    Thus TS is the weakest offering from the Heads, an album of average quality that fails to capture any of what made the group special. Byrne would have been wise to limit the soundtrack to the movie, a context in which it no doubt fares better. TS doesn't feel like a lesser Heads album; worse, it doesn't feel like a Heads album at all, and seems like an aberration in their discography.

    Naked (1988)
    Page Rating: 5
    Overall Rating: 9

    The Heads' swansong is arguably their most ambitious work since RiL, a return to a more serious tone and more elaborate arrangements.

    Unfortunately, the focus seems to be almost exclusively on the arrangements, relying on them to animate otherwise inert, lifeless songs. The album lacks much in the way of catchy melodies, ergo most of what makes any song interesting are the arrangements, more often than not a return to world beats, an area the band had already dabbled in in the past.

    While the arrangements are enough to sustain one's interest for awhile, they're not sufficiently intriguing to salvage otherwise melody-less, bland filler. Worse, as the arrangements are rather consistent in their sound throughout the album, they eventually grow tedious as well.

    While the album at least sounds like a Heads product, it sounds like a group with a marked dearth of inspiration vainly attempting to recreate their former glory but ultimately only going through the motions.

    While the band heavily relied on Eno's production during their peak period, there was always a foundation of strong songwriting to superimpose the studio trickery over. Here there's precious little substance to decorate with clever arrangements, proving that skilled production alone is insufficient to make a great Heads album.

    Naked is, at least, a good deal more compelling than its predecessor, featuring a number of tracks that are at least somewhat interesting, but in the end it fails to fulfill any of its higher pretensions. The band broke up shortly after the album's release, a decision that was most likely for the best, or else the group would have degenerated into self-parody, a pale shell of their former self.