TALKING HEADS The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (Sire/Warner Bros./Rhino)
This is the first CD issue of Talking Heads 1982 live album, and what was once a comfortably-sized double LP has expanded into a 33 track endurance test. Theres a lot (almost an embarrassment, an abundance) to admire about The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads, whose two discs are neatly divided along the two phases of their early career. The first covers the years 1977 to 1979, the music all angular and elastic, spare and lean, a hybrid of Jonathan Richman, The Slits and Muppet Labs employees Bunsen and Beaker. Of course, you can hear all this on the studio albums of the period, but there you wont get David Byrne squawking The name of this song is before each performance. And surely its impossible to hear the plastic reassurance of Dont Worry About The Government or the ominous, bass-heavy plod of Psycho Killer too often.
Nevertheless, this overzealous bouncy chirpiness can become rather wearing very quickly, so its with palpable relief that the collection snuggles up with the bands Eno years (and how retrospectively telling it seems that the band hooked up with Eno, given that they maintained the same aloof kinship with the new wave movement as Roxy Music did with glam). Theres the slide guitar glide of the suburbia-strafing The Big Country, for starters, and the elegant vistas of the Fear Of Music album, which art at least as much as they rock. Minds glorious sliding plates of melody are only slightly spoiled by Byrnes increasingly distracting conveyor belt of vocal tics. Dreamy synth clouds soothe the jerky, fevered pulse of Stay Hungry, and Tina Weymouths backing vocals soften Air.
The second disc presents, complete and in sequence, the setlist deployed during the 1980-1981 Remain In Light tour, spliced together from performances in Tokyo, New Jersey and New York. It was here that audiences were confronted with the legendary ten-headed incarnation of the band, the extra musicians introduced gradually as the snaking polyrhythms of the Remain In Light material wove themselves into the performance. Once In A Lifetime appears almost sedate and relaxed, bathed in a shimmering keyboard heat haze, whilst a slow Houses In Motion is all pseudo slinky sidling. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) appears to assemble itself before your very ears: beginning mysteriously with just bass and percussion patterns, they are soon joined by a chuckling rhythm guitar, Byrnes carney barking vocals and the assembled choirs swaying, hymnal choruses. Life During Wartime seems right at home amidst all these swirling cross-currents of controlled chaos, the lines This aint no Mudd Club or CBGB/I aint got time for that now seemingly planted in the lyrics like a time capsule.
I remember the howls of protest that accompanied the release of Bruce Springsteens marathon Live 1975-1985 box set, the outrage at the idea that a musician could believe his oeuvre sufficiently important to justify that kind of investment, both financial and temporal. Sneakily, under cover of bonus material, The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads is now two-and-a-half hours from one end to the other. You could listen to this album or you could watch most of your favourite series of The Office, or nearly all of your preferred chapter of The Godfather, and I wonder whether either wouldnt be a more edifying way to fritter away an afternoon than listen to an album, any album.
The Modern Lovers