Re: The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
Date: February 6, 2005 11:20
Up until 2004, Stop Making Sense was the only easily available live Talking Heads album on compact disc, but it caught the band in the second phase of its career, presenting a polished stage show after having arrived squarely in the mainstream with the success of Speaking in Tongues (their fifth album) and "Burning Down the House" in particular. It was a distinct change. Speaking in Tongues was their first new music in three years and was noticeably upbeat and danceable compared to the dark paranoia of Remain in Light and Fear of Music and the undistilled art-school geekiness of their first two albums. Stop Making Sense captured Talking Heads at the height of their popularity, but not at the height of their power. After all, it was those first four albums that established the band among critics and a fervent semiunderground following. And that's where The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads comes in. It was the perfect summary to the first phase of their career, presenting an LP of material performed by the original quartet (1977-1979) and an LP of material from the Remain in Light tours of 1980 and 1981 (featuring a greatly expanded band lineup). But alas, it languished in the strictly analog domain for more than two decades. In 2004, finally, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads was made available on compact disc, and it may well have been worth the wait. Each version of the band is still given a disc of its own, but the longer running time of compact discs versus LPs means you're treated to almost double the original number of tracks. The first disc, which features the original quartet, is brilliantly expanded with the original LP sequencing completely intact and all the bonus tracks coming between the LP sides (except for "Heaven," the perfect album closer). The sound is crisp and clear, with tight drumming, a great punchy bass sound, and clearly separated guitars that allow you to really hear what complementary (and fine) players David Byrne and Jerry Harrison were. Byrne is the über-geek with a totally unique delivery (especially on tracks like "Who Is It?," "Artists Only," and "Stay Hungry," not to mention his nervous stage announcements), but they all play with the raw energy of a young band on the way up. The bonus tracks are all excellent. There is no sense whatsoever that they were simply padding things for a longer running time, and it's just great hearing live versions of songs like "Mind" (with extended guitar solo), "The Big Country," and "The Book I Read" that have never been readily available in live form. As fantastic as the first disc is, the second one is perhaps even more exciting. The expanded band (ten musicians and two backup singers) is amazing, not only adding power and punch to the Remain in Light material, but in most cases surpassing the studio versions (no mean feat). These live versions of "The Great Curve," "Houses in Motion," and "Crosseyed and Painless (all prominently featuring Adrian Belew) are nearly worth the price of admission alone, but the bonus tracks here are just as exciting. The original release had no overlapping songs on the two LPs, with the large version of the band sticking solely to tunes from Remain in Light and Fear of Music. Now you're treated to arrangements of "Psycho Killer," "Stay Hungry," and "Warning Sign" as performed by the expanded lineup, not to mention live versions of "Animals," "Cities," and "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)." The band is on fire throughout the performances, and fans of Belew's guitar playing will practically be giddy with ecstasy. These are some of his finest performances strictly as a guitarist, and although Remain in Light was the only studio album he played on, he beautifully adds his own touches to "Stay Hungry" and especially "Psycho Killer." Byrne also contributes some cool guitar, sometimes using a great delay sound, and again, the clear separation of instruments lets you really hear the details. The producers chose to depart from the album sequencing on this disc, opting to reproduce the entire set list in order instead. It works up until the end, where they move "The Great Curve" from its position at the beginning of side four and make it the album closer. It might be a more exciting song to finish the set, but folks who already know this album expect "Take Me to the River" to be the end, and it's a bit jarring to have the music continue after that (understanding this, the liner notes actually explain how to program the original album sequencing). However, that's a very minor quibble about a re-release that actually manages to vastly improve on an already excellent album. The liner notes also include a number of reviews of T-Heads live shows, and they wisely chose to reproduce all the band photos that originally decorated the inner sleeves as well.The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads is not only a vital document of an important, groundbreaking band on its way up, it's one of Talking Heads' best albums, easily surpassing Stop Making Sense. They were a young and hungry band making a name for themselves, pushing the boundaries of pop music and performing with palpable energy. Highly recommended.
"Music is the frozen tapioca in the ice chest of history."
"Shit!... No shit, awright!"