Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues Music Album Reviews

Today on Pitchfork, we are taking a critical look at Talking Heads with new reviews of five albums that chart their journey from New York art punks to a voracious and spectacular pop group.

In nearly 35 years of David Byrne’s stage performances, some elements have endured: He still dances passionately with floor lamps. He lies supine on the stage, singing into his headset. Brass and woodwind players march around him in geometric shapes. Above all, his hyphenate backing singers/dancers always seem positively euphoric, beaming in a way that transcends professionally rehearsed cheer, as they execute song after song of quirky, nimble bends and leaps, the sort of exaggerated movements that evoke children’s specials and turtleneck-heavy performance art. From Talking Heads’ epochal 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense to Byrne’s celebrated 2019 Broadway show American Utopia, these dancers’ amusement has always been scrawled on their faces: How different this is, they seem to muse while in their Gumby contortions, perfectly identical yet each awed in their expressions. What an absurd, wonderful thing we’re doing now.
Their balance of joyful freedom inside methodical choreography, spontaneity inside structure, perfectly mirrors Talking Heads, who first mastered that equilibrium in the studio. On their fifth album, Speaking in Tongues, Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison indulge their unusual, gamboling whims within solid walls. The record brought along the spry, Afrobeat-inspired polyrhythms and funk saunter of 1980’s Remain in Light while adding in new wave’s synths and the sharp, physical precision of Byrne’s 1981 score for Twyla Tharp’s dance piece The Catherine Wheel; there are also glimmers of the neon pop cheer of Weymouth and Frantz’s side project Tom Tom Club. Together, this inky passport of sounds yields an album that, besides smoothly mixing art-rock with funk with pop, feels meticulously mapped for the collective yet informed by the movements of the individuals.
Even for an album titled after communication—nodding to both glossolalia and Byrne’s famously garbled scatting in recording sessions—Speaking in Tongues is singularly immediate and direct. In each song, one concept—one saucy bass-and-piano walking line, one ricocheting keyboard line, one heavily shouted pyromaniac refrain—repeats into an insistent foundation, so emphatic it begins to burrow into a trancelike state befitting the album name. Choruses are evolutions of verses, of ideas that have repeated enough to feel lived-in. Weymouth’s funk bass, the unsung star of the album, is never far from the foreground.

This rigid framework throughout allows the rest of the instrumentation to cavort above it: A jubilant momentum rises throughout “Girlfriend Is Better,” but its base—a sauntering line from Weymouth, sci-fi synth radiation from guest Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic—is set quickly. This bedrock allows for Byrne’s hoarse, scattered shouting to reach velocity above while still feeling controlled. “Pull Up the Roots” flirts with disco as it rides a tight rhythm section that feels a shade too hectic for dancing; the bass bounce starts at a gallop and the guitar backflips around it. “Burning Down the House,” Speaking in Tongue’s biggest hit—and the only Top 10 single in Talking Heads’ entire catalog—starts with a literal scream from Byrne, and has no clear markers between verse and chorus: It is a full stampede to the howled refrain, an explosion buoyed by such a perky trajectory, it sneakily exculpates some the most insurgently unglued lyrics to ever crack the Billboard charts. (“People on their way to work and baby what did you expect?/Gonna burst into flame!” is some dark, dark weather.)

Byrne’s lyrics have been deemed inscrutable art-school fare by many, minimized as Mad Libs sold as gospel; in fact, as Speaking in Tongues proves definitively, they are is the opposite. Byrne sings like a kindergarten teacher, or a Rosetta Stone language bot: in plainspoken, short observations that make sense individually, yet sequence into a mystifying dialogue. On “Moon Rocks,” when Byrne seems to scoff at alien intelligence—“Flying saucers, levitation/Yo I could do that!”—and follows it up a hair’s-breadth later with a liberal arts pep talk—"So take your hands out of your pockets/And get your face adjusted”—these are perfectly intelligible thoughts, individually. On “Slippery People,” Byrne and sensational guest vocalist Nona Hendryx offer a strange sort of gospel proselytizing—"Turn like a wheel, he’s alright/See for yourself, the Lord won’t mind,” a millisecond before sharing stark memories of cold bathtub water­—over a merry funk pulse and scratchy, uber-’80s synths.

For all its charms, and the big single it housed, Speaking in Tongues lies in the shadow of Remain in Light; it’s not as effortlessly cohesive, its diffused interests not as zealous and enchanting as its more focused predecessor. But Speaking in Tongues does have the distinction of ending on the Talking Heads song most likely to be on a skeptic’s wedding playlist: “This Must Be the Place,” a neurotic’s concession to love even as he frets over the transience of life, and a bittersweet pact to let someone into his fearful mind. Byrne is unusually tender; his wild thoughts flow in one direction. As he sings gently to his partner, wondering, “Did I find you, or you find me?” the beautiful messiness of existence seems to soften. Here aren’t 30 thoughts bandying for space in Byrne’s fulminating brain, only vulnerability. There aren’t three synth lines racing off a cliff, just some percussive clang and one light synth wobble. His expression of love feels even more romantic because he clearly still knows love is a distraction. It's the strangest move of all from him, and it almost makes sense.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues Music Album Reviews Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on April 30, 2020 Rating: 5


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