Talking Heads hit their stride
Itamar Katz | Ramat-Gan, Israel | 10/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Talking Heads' debut album, Talking Heads: 77, clearly stood the test of time like few punk and proto-punk albums. But if 77 was one of the best creations of the punk genre, then with their second album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, David Byrne and co. achieved a sound of their own that transcended time and genre, and assured their place in the pantheon of rock n' roll.
In no small part, thanks are due to producer Brian Eno; though he was only four years older than Byrne himself, Eno had a rich career behind him, not only as a former member of art-school heroes Roxy Music but also as a collaborator with varied artists such as David Bowie, Devo, John Cale and Robert Wyatt. Eno helped the Heads mature their style, giving Jerry Harrison's keyboard a more important role than in 77, and Harrison carries many of the songs on his wonderful playing. But Eno or no Eno, the show still belongs to Byrne, and he matured greatly in his singing and most notably in his songwriting from the first album. The angst and cynicism of Psycho Killer and Don't Worry About The Government is still there, but it's more subtle, more low-key, and much, much nastier. In fact, the beautiful The Big Country may just be the meanest piece he has ever written.
Not all the tracks on More Songs are standouts; in fact it starts out pretty mildly. The first three tracks - Thank You For Sending Me An Angel, With Our Love and The Good Thing - are relatively lukewarm, nice little tunes with good and intelligent lyrics, and aren't as powerful and straightforward as most of 77. But when Warning Signs hits, it's clear that the change that went over the Heads is not a mellowing of their first album, but on the contrary - Byrne merely sharpened his knives. Warning Signs is a phenomenal song and a strong one, and once the album hits its stride, it doesn't let go. Warning Signs is quickly followed by the brilliant Found A Job, that remains one of the Heads' greatest songs, and one of Byrne's best lyrical inventions, telling the story of a problem couple who start creating their own TV shows at home; the song is sharp and cynical, and in its subtle ways the message is more powerful than in straightforward anti-social numbers like the classic Psycho Killer. The next three tracks - Artists Only, I'm No In Love and Stay Hungry, are consistently engaging and challenging and keep the album running smoothly, even if Stay Hungry might have felt more at ease on 77.
The last two tracks show just how much the Heads have grown in the past year, and how much they have increased their versatility. The cover version of Al Green's Motown classic Take Me To The River instantly became the Heads' biggest radio hit, and even if it's not one of the best tracks on the album it's easy to see why; it's a fantastic cover version, done with every bit of respect and love for the original and for the Motown sound, but infusing it with new life and modern sounds. Byrne and co. prove on that track just how talented a group of musicians they were, setting themselves completely apart from punk rockers like the Sex Pistols or the Ramones; the Heads were capable of instrumental grooves that few punk bands could master. On the other hand, the epic The Big Country is the best showcase of Byrne's song craftsmanship, and it remains one of his greatest creations. Byrne's mild and subtle sarcasm on The Big Country is immensely stronger and nastier than anything on 77, and it's perfect in composition and in delivery both. The Big Country is the best track on More Songs, and it would be the springboard for their finest albums.
So even if More Songs About Buildings And Food is not the Heads' best album, it's the beginning of their creative prime, one that would produce the brilliant masterpieces Fear Of Music and Remain In Light, and even if it's not necessarily better on the whole than Talking Heads: 77, in many ways it's the first true Heads album. It's essential for any fan, and a standout album of its time."
Which is the best Talking Heads album?
WW85 | New York, NY United States | 08/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Anyone could make an argument in favor of any of the first 5 studio albums and not be wrong. Having been introduced to the band primarily through "More Songs", it has a warm place in my heart. But as the years went by, the newer albums, of course, took over my turntable for long periods of time. (Yeah, the 33-1/3 kind)
Now, years after the fact, now that all of the albums are old (as am I), if I were to add it all up, this is the one I've listened to the most. The songs and production are unsurpassed and the peak of the old school Talking Heads Style. The next album, "Fear of Music" was really kind of a hybrid and the beginning of the polyrhythmic style that would become their signature sound for years to come with "Remain in Light" and "Speaking in Tongues".
I absolutely LOVE those albums, but it is a different, funkier (for lack of a better word) experience. "More Songs.." and "77" lend themselves more to everyday listening in my humble opinion. If you put a gun to my head to make me choose, "More Songs" would have to be the one I would least want to part with...
fyi, the title of the album came from XTC front-man Andy Partridge. He was apparently friends with some of the Heads and when they told him they were working on a new album his response was something along the lines of "Oh, more songs about buildings and food I suppose..."
The Hockney-ish photo-montage cover of the album, (which used to be a lot more important when the product was a 12" lp) was created primarily by Byrne and Weymouth by hand, with hundreds of Polaroids and countless hours of work in the days long before photoshop.