Slash SEPTEMBER 1978 - by Kick Face


Probably as many things could be said about the Talking Heads' new album as there are sections in the cover composite picture. I never did like the first LP very much and was astonished to find myself thoroughly obsessed by some parts of this second release and only mildly annoyed by others.

Once past the initial shock of David Byrne's shrill, maniacal vocal mechanics and the sometimes neo-funky discoid riffs (used here for rather different purposes, one quickly discovers), I got trapped by the super-cool, ironic music laid down by these ordinary eastern wasps.

Then there is the Eno production, immediately detectable only when this or that tune threatens to repeat itself or lose its initial impact, but actually present and in action at every moment, burying Byrne's words when the music can say more than the lyrics, giving the second part of a tune that slightly automated touch of the absurd when obviousness or predictability might set in.

Throughout the album there is a constant dual effect which produces in the listener the exciting inability to decide if what he is hearing is simply carefully crafted pop music or something rather more sophisticated and disturbing. The lyrics, of course, should solve the dilemma, but they are so de-emphasised (with a couple of exceptions. like the super-silly "I'm painting again" shriek) as to well go unnoticed while the rhythms of the tunes grab hold of you.

And if you conclude that the Talking Heads are just too clever or remote from real life to have any real impact, like a bunch of artists toying with music before they tire of it and go on to toy with another medium, the final Big Country number should set things straight: they are acutely aware of the rest of the world and its trite ways but simply want no part of it. At least not as long as the price of constant boredom has to be paid for living in it. In a rather slow rocking tempo, Byrne starts by enumerating what he sees while flying over the American continent: stadiums, restaurants and bars ("for later in the evening"); it's all vaguely patriotic, except for the detached tone, but in no way are we prepared for the devastating chorus which wonderfully smacks of snotty elitism and even un-Americanism: "I wouldn't live like that, oh god, no siree / I wouldn't do the things those people do / I wouldn't live there if you paid me to." Then he describes the daily life led by all those millions below - the shopping, the evening get-togethers, the kitchens full of food - and once again blows up in an emphatic denial of kinship or sympathy: "I wouldn't live like that..." Even if a couple of verses toward the end admit the loneliness and inherent sadness that such a refusal carries with it, the overall effect is that of optimism and gladness in the superiority of one's fate. It is also slightly mad (the lyrics make way to ga ga ka ka ga ga goo barks) but anyone refusing to drown in the big warm brotherhood of the average man is always considered crazy anyway.

Certainly the most important cut of the album (it is, after all, the only tune vaguely connected to buildings or food), it is also the least equivocal in its message.

Once the more obscure aspects of their art are tackled and exorcised, the Talking Heads just might soon turn out one of the most devastating statements of this musical era.