Sunday, September 15, 2013

Naked -- Talking Heads -- Review

Naked (1988)
Rating: 7
Best Song: Mr. Jones
Worst Song: Hm...

       When judging Talking Heads' legacy, this album, their last, is hardly ever mentioned. Of course, there's a reason for this -- there is very little actual innovation going on here. Naked is a "Talking Heads-by-numbers" album if there ever was one. Cap'n Marvel brilliantly described it as "Remain in Light performed by the Buena Vista Social Club", and while I would argue that the songwriting here is more along the lines of Little Creatures, the Social Club comparison is extremely apt. The band basically took all of the grooves it had performed in previous albums and replaced the synths and guitars with a variety of worldbeat instruments (congas, horns, talking drum, accordion, kora, and more!). They also hired a small army of session players to play all of these bizarre instruments (including the guitar contributions of one Johnny Marr), resulting in a studio filled with around 30 musicians.
       So, if I'm going to praise this album for anything, it's gotta be the arrangements and production. Worldbeat may not be one of my favorite genres, but I can't deny that the densely layered instruments all grooving over one another sounds extremely cool. Of course, the sound is still nothing compared to Remain in Light (Steve Lillywhite, as good of a producer as he may be, is no replacement for Eno), but hey, it's not bad!
       The songwriting, however, isn't quite up to par. Byrne apparently wrote the melodies for Naked while improvising with his voice over the instrumental grooves, and while that strategy may have worked for Remain, I find it leaves me a little wanting here. Sure, songs like "Mr. Jones" and "Nothing But Flowers" have decently memorable melodies, but they're still nothing compared to something like "Born Under Punches" or "The Great Curve" or "And She Was" or "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel" or "Love's Come to Town" or a plethora of other Heads songs. 
       My favorite thing here is definitely the ultra-funky "Mr. Jones"; there's something oddly satisfactory about hearing a bunch of art-school nerds completely pulling off a funk song that also features an over-the-top Mariachi horn section. Yes, you read that right, and yes, the song completely works. The post-punk-y closer "Cool Water" also works, although not quite as well. It's certainly listenable, though. 
       The Bo Diddley-shuffle of "Ruby Dear" is...alright, I guess, and "Totally Nude" is a decent throwback to the band's guitar-driven days, but I'd be lying if I said I could remember how the melodies on either of these tracks go. The gentle country sway of "The Democratic Circus" is also pleasant while it's on, and I like how the track gradually grows into something of a rocker. I also like the chorus of "Mommy Daddy You and I", even though I really can't remember anything about the rest of the song. But hey, dig that groovy accordion!
       On the negative side, the proto-industrial stomp of "The Facts of Life" sounds fairly silly by today's standards (it's like a goofy version of "The Overload"), the opening "Blind" features a really irritating vocal from Byrne, "Bill" is a total and utter bore, and...yeah, this thing's kind of a slog. I mean, individually these songs aren't awful by any means, but when they're stretched out over the course of 52 minutes, it's very easy to get tired of the endless worldbeat onslaught. It's not terrible, but only get it if you're really into these guys. As far as a final album goes, it's a bit disappointing. It doesn't ruin the band's legacy, or anything like that, but I do wish we had gotten a stronger swan song. 
       Ah, well. If I wanna hear some good Heads music, I can just go listen to 77 or Remain in Light again, can't I?

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