Thursday, July 22, 2010

album of the day: Speaking in Tongues

Talking Heads were, obviously, iconic to the 1980s. What people think of as their distinctive sound, aside from the familiar reedy tenor of David Byrne, came about largely as a result of collaboration with producer Brian Eno, in my opinion. I refer to their use of drum machine and drums and other percussion, synthesizer and guitar fills up the wazoo, and the space they gave each song to develop. It's kind of remarkable that this album has only 9 songs on it, but in at 46 minutes. Five minutes is long for a pop/rock song, but these don't feel long, even as they meander and consider themselves. This was their third under the influence of Eno, and definitely has his stamp, but the band also work out a way to be themselves as well.

The album's hits were "Burning Down The House," which you couldn't avoid if you lived through the 80s, "Slippery People," which I adore, and, to a lesser degree, "Girlfriend is Better," which I also adore. I mean, you hafta: "Nothing is better than that. Is it?"

No two Talking Heads records sound exactly alike, even though they all sound like Talking Heads records. If you dig Merleau-Ponty's ontology of the chiasm, you might think of their music as never deviating from itself yet never coinciding with itself. I think that's what made them vital and interesting then, and what keeps their stuff sounding good, even if dated, now. You could hear development and experimentation happening through these weirdly catchy songs.

For many, I'm sure, the main appeal of Talking Heads was Byrne's vocals, especially in their middle-to-late period when he kept up that stuttering staccato and eventually took to wearing gigantic buttressed suits. Some folks even pay limited attention to his weird lyrics. "Slippery People" has a call-and-response chorus:

What's the matter with him? (He's alright)
How do you know? (The lord won't mind)
Don't play no games (He's alright)
Straight from the bottom to the top

Which is weird. Byrne was weird. Probably still is. And he's certainly a somber son of a bitch. My favorite tune on the album is the quiet, almost sweet - no, dammit, fully sweet final track, "This Must Be The Place." The opening synthesizer solo just makes my heart warm and cuddly. Then Byrne comes in, singing more softly and smoothly than on any other track on the record, to pursue a recurring theme in his work, the notion of home. I shall conclude by quoting it in its entirety:

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It's okay, I know nothing's wrong, nothing

Hey, I got plenty of time
Hey, you got light in your eyes
And you're standing here beside me
Out of the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight

Home is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can't tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this where I'll be, where I'll be

Hey, we drift in and out
Hey, sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you'll love me 'til my heart stops
Love me 'til I'm dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head
Ah ooh

No comments: