By: Emma Jean, Staff Writer
Certain bands of the 80s have kept cultural relevance in the years since. Bands such as Queen, Prince and the Revolution, The Smiths (fuck Morrissey), and Blondie have remained in the soundtracks of movies, commercials, and the lives of cool dads and emo kids everywhere. But what about Talking Heads? They, tragically, haven’t maintained much mainstream permanency outside of their timeless “This Must Be The Place,” an understated, bittersweet, lyrical love song that has remained and been covered by countless artists. But that isn’t the only piece that’s broken through — the other being their 1984 concert film and album, Stop Making Sense, Directed by Silence of the Lambs’ Jonathan Demme, it’s widely regarded as one of the best concert films of all time with an accompanying soundtrack to boot. It’s right to have maintained such a following — it’s incredible.
The four-piece art-rock band, who released their first album in 1977 and their last in 1988, gained a reputation for going against the musical grain of the time, with their live shows being no exception. By combining guitar-driven polyrhythms, arresting melodies, and curious but occasionally anxious lyrics about being alive, the band created a unique sound that also happens to consist of stone-cold bangers. I dare you to throw on “Once in a Lifetime,” possibly the grooviest song about an existential crisis you’ll ever hear, and not dance.
A problem with a lot of the band’s early studio albums that’s important to note is that the technical precision that comes with all the layers of manufacturing sometimes leaves the soul of the music lost and detached. When it’s performed live, however, with all the echoey production stripped away, it comes shining right through. That’s what makes Stop Making Sense so remarkable. With those rigid walls torn down, the urgency of the vocals and the layers of instruments blending together in real-time take the songs to another level, creating an ecstatic new-wave legend.
Hearing these musicians at the height of their careers perform their new wave-funk hits is pure joy. Frontman David Byrne wails over layers of guitar grooves and percussion with an energy that just pours through the music. The funky “Slippery People,” is a great example, blending guitar riffs, layers of percussion, and synthesizers with the bombastic vocals of back-up singers Edna Holt and Lynn Mabry taking the song to an energetic level leaps and bounds above the studio version. This is a common feature on the album: songs like “Life During Wartime,” “Girlfriend is Better,” and “Burning Down The House” feel like a shot of adrenaline. Even in songs that slow the concert down, like the gorgeous, melancholy “Heaven,” featuring just Byrne and bass player Tina Weymouth, the emotion of the song shines through every aspect.
In the years since, each member of Talking Heads has done well for themselves; some are producers, and they all still perform, with Byrne even collaborating with director Spike Lee this year. They may not have gotten the biopic treatment other groups have gotten, but in a way, that’s what makes them special. This group, bursting full of life and sound that makes you dance and think at every turn, preserved their performing at its finest with no room for outside imitation or muddying.
Beyond their releases, Talkings Heads lives on in their musical successors; artists like St. Vincent, LCD Soundsystem, and Vampire Weekend have cited them as influences — and it isn’t hard to hear the similarities. The band has even had a star turn on Timothée Chalamet’s t-shirts in recent years — the highest honour that any of us could ask for. To me, this album feels like release; the band’s release from the slick production to bring out their raw sound, and the listener’s release that comes from the shouting, moving, joyful catharsis of feeling it along with them.