Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Four Albums

For the last couple of days, I've been listening in the car to a tape that I made a few years ago which features highlights from the first four Talking Heads albums, which were released, one per year, beginning in 1977: Talking Heads '77, More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light.

Listening now, there are several things that are hard to believe - one, that it was 30 years ago (give or take a year) that this music was recorded. Second, that the band was able to produce four albums in as many years as brilliant as those four. But most importantly, that the band was able to make four albums that sound as different in their sound as those four. Though all four are easily identifiable as Talking Heads, they each have a distinct identity - none of them sound like the others.

On Talking Heads '77, the production was spare, and the band sounded (and looked, as evident in the above video) innocent, almost naive.

On More Songs About Buildings and Food, the band was produced by Brian Eno, who could almost be called "the fifth head." The sound was much fuller, and the band sounded a lot more confident than on their debut, almost as if they had begun to realize just how good they were.

Eno was still there behind the boards on Fear of Music, but the album's sound was an 180 degree turn away from its predecessor - where Buildings and Food's sound was full and warm, Fear of Music was ice cold - a perfect match to the music the band was now making. Nervous, edgy music - you could (and still can) dance to it, but you'd be just as likely to want to hit something.

And then came what is probably the band's masterpiece. There was so much going on that it wasn't easy to get into at first listen, but ultimately it was one of those few albums where a band was able to stretch itself to reach all the ambitions it ever had, and execute them perfectly. And this was definitely not the same Talking Heads that audiences had seen in 1977. Augmented by expert musicians like Adrian Belew, Busta Jones, Steve Scales and Nona Hendryx, Byrne and his bandmates - Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz - proved themselves to be showmen of the first order. It was this version of the band that I saw perform in October 1980, and it remains one of the concert highlights of my life.

One band, four years, four wonderful albums.

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