Friday, March 17, 2017

Talking Heads 1: 77

Say the name “Talking Heads” and most people will think of a sweaty guy in a big white suit. David Byrne was indeed the voice and face of the band for most of their tenure, often to the detriment of other members. The rhythm section was (and still is) married to each other: self-taught bass player Tina Weymouth and mighty white drummer Chris Frantz. An early secret weapon was Jerry Harrison, who not only played guitar and keyboards, but brought some true indie cred being an original member of the Modern Lovers.
Talking Heads weren’t punk per se, and new wave hadn’t been coined yet, but their angular attack on the pop music form fit right alongside Television in the CBGB scene, forming a perfect square with the Ramones and Blondie. As is the case with many bands starting out, their first album stands somewhat apart from what would come after, mostly because they hadn’t landed on a certain producer yet.
Throughout Talking Heads: 77, David Byrne twitches, yodels and hiccups his way through lyrics that could best be described as “quirky”, sometimes hitting the notes, too. Even four decades later, it’s hard to tell if his persona is manufactured or authentic. (See? Rivers Cuomo isn’t such an innovator after all.)
The music is equally quirky, and sometimes just plain goofy. Even past its title, “Uh Oh, Love Comes To Town” features a steel drum solo. “New Feeling” pogoes along while David has a conniption, while “Tentative Decisions” starts slinky before finding a military march and singalong chorus of sorts. “Happy Day” follows the same musical structure of verse, pre-chorus and chorus, but with dreamy keyboards and bells, and one still expects the same lyrics on the chorus. For simple geek rock, it’s tough to beat “Who Is It?”, made more striking when followed by “No Compassion”, which seems to stop about three times before its actual end.
Side two seems to have more immediately catchy tracks, beginning with “The Book I Read”, which could even pass for a love song. “Don’t Worry About The Government” is more along the lines of a stereotypical Byrne lyric, even with the trilling mandolin effect. “First Week/Last Week… Carefree” utilizes marimbas and percussion for a quasi-tropical sound, with a saxophone that seems to predict Haircut 100, and a prominent “i-yi-yi-yi” hook that is used much better on the next track. That would be “Psycho Killer”, still the best song on the album and the best use of both Byrne persona and band sound. Whatever concern any listener may get from that dark portrait is easily brushed aside by the infectious silliness of “Pulled Up”.
Talking Heads: 77 does improve with familiarity, and there are people out there who think this is one of the greatest debuts by any band ever. Personally, we’re more into Television. (True to tradition, their first single wasn’t included on their first album, but today you can get an expanded CD that includes “Love -> Buildings On Fire” and marvel at the mariachi horns, along with some other B-sides and outtakes.)

Talking Heads Talking Heads: 77 (1977)—3
2005 CD reissue: same as 1977, plus 5 extra tracks

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