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splendid > reviews > 9/25/2004
Talking Heads
Talking Heads
The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
Sire/Warner Bros/Rhino


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "The Great Curve"

Buy me now
Radiohead may have taken their name from a song by this band, and Les Savy Fav may have supped from the same art-college drinking fountains, but no-one has ever emerged sounding anything like them. The name of this band is Talking Heads, and the name of this band's 1982 live album is The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads, and if the name of The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads is anything to go by, then this band is nothing if not self-explanatory: "This song is 'New Feeling'", David Byrne announces at the outset, "and that's what it's about".

This is The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads' first appearance on compact disc, and it's as terrific (and belated) a restoration job as the recent CD/DVD remastering of 1983's concert film and soundtrack, Stop Making Sense. Fleshed out to over two and a half hours in length over two 78-minute discs, the second live addition to Talking Heads' catalog chronicles the band's development from twitchy, nervy new-wave quartet to vibrant, funk-inflected ten-piece. Oddly, it also works as something of a compendium of the finest moments of their existence, making it an ideal entry-point (yes, even better than the simultaneously-released Greatest Hits set) for listeners who have yet to succumb to this most curiously incomparable of bands.

On Disc 1 (1977-79), the likes of "New Feeling", "Don't Worry About The Government" and "Who Is It?" barely sound any different from their studio counterparts on Talking Heads '77, which, far from being a bad thing, is merely indicative of what a tight, rigidly disciplined band the Talking Heads were at this point in their career. There's also the previously unreleased song "A Clean Break (Let's Work)", a catchy, midtempo slice of groovy art-pop ("Just beginning to / Take that love away...") that's laced with splodges of wracked guitar-spazz. Aside from resembling the catchy, lyrically repetitious chants of early singles like "Sugar On My Tongue", the song bears all the hallmarks of the band's early fixation with the bubblegum pop of the 1910 Fruitgum Company. Likewise "Pulled Up", which here lends weight to the somewhat improbable suggestion that Talking Heads were a "punk" band: they're caught in lackadaisically out-of-tune form, and against all odds, it suits them.

Byrne's vocals are here afforded a spontaneity denied by the limitations of the studio -- he yelps, squawks, and grunts his way through these twisting, turning songs in a manner that adjoins with the taut musicianship at more visceral, more guttural (read: much, much more danceable) angles. In fact, Talking Heads' collective grasp of rhythm has -- Byrne's jittery lyrical observations and bug-eyed delivery aside -- long been one of the most striking and durable aspects of the band's music. For a band of pale-faced, herky-jerky honkies, Talking Heads' emphasis on groove remains unsurpassed, even on the rigid, deceptively straightforward likes of "The Girls Want To Be With The Girls" and the tweaked, sprightly rendition of "Electricity (Drugs)", both bonus cuts nabbed from the "Warner Brothers Music Show" promo (1978).

Disc 2 (1980-81), like Stop Making Sense, creates the impression of a single concert by seamlessly splicing songs from three different performances of the Remain In Light tour -- in Tokyo, Cherry Hill, NJ, and Central Park, respectively. Operating as a ten-piece band, with additional members including guitarist Adrian Belew, Funkadelic members Steve Scales (percussion) and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Nona Hendryx and Dolette McDonald on backing vocals, and Busta Jones on bass, the expanded Talking Heads are a far more jam-oriented proposition than the tight, structurally disciplined quartet that surface on Disc One.

Case in point: the second disc's rendition of "Psycho Killer" scores itself a fleshed-out conclusion, as does a wickedly funky, elongated reading of "Warning Sign". Meanwhile, "Animals", a harsh and discordant song in its Fear Of Music guise, is here tweaked into a winningly melodic pop song with beauteous vocal harmonies. The Remain In Light tracks receive the most startling tweakings, with "Houses In Motion" transformed from a brief RIL interlude into a fully-fledged soul/funk revue. "Born Under Punches" is reimagined a punchy, almost disco-like number that presupposes the likes of !!! by a good two decades, and the most striking thing about "The Great Curve" is how it retains the studio version's jaunty yet trancelike rumble.

All in all, this a terrific and long-overdue reissue that's sure to satiate established fans as well as the new converts it hopes to earn. All we need now is remastered versions of the original albums (Speaking In Tongues, especially). With extra tracks... Please?



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