Wednesday, September 25, 2013

True Stories -- Talking Heads -- Review

True Stories (1986)
Rating: 9
"This is your story"
Best Song: Wild Wild Life or Dream Operator
Worst Song: Papa Legba

       After Talking Heads finally went "big" with the major success of Speaking in Tongues and Little Creatures, Byrne decided that he wanted to branch out into a new medium. Thus, he decided to write, direct, and star in a bizarre, post-modern movie musical set in an imaginary Texas town. For the record, I've never actually seen the entire film, but from the parts that I have seen, it definitely looks...interesting. The movie also stars John Goodman, strangely enough, and yes, he sings. 
       At any rate, this album consists of all the songs included in the film, although here they're being performed by Talking Heads as opposed to the stars of the movie. And, I've gotta's pretty good. I mean, most of the album admittedly seems like nothing more than "quirky-80s-dance-pop-by-numbers", and coming from a genius like David Byrne, that's a little disappointing, but this is really solid. 
       Well, mostly solid. "Puzzlin' Evidence" is certainly fun (the over-the-top choir shouting in the background is a nice touch), but it winds on for way too long, and in the end it's utterly forgettable. "Papa Legba" breaks away from the happy-synth-pop mould that the rest of the album falls into, but it does so in a dreadfully boring way; it's essentially a brain-dead version of "Listening Wind". I suppose there's some slightly interesting Spanish flavor in there, but...egh. Why in the world does the worst song on the album have to wind on for 6 minutes? 
       "Hey Now" is a definite improvement, though; it's a load of fun too, with its "Hokey Pokey"-esque melody and slight Latin flair, and it's smart enough to finish off at around the three-minute mark. The best thing here is probably the massive hit "Wild Wild Life". I must admit -- for years and years (literally since I was a little kid) I've heard this track, but I had NO IDEA it was by Talking Heads until I sat down and listened to this album for review. Ironically, I always thought it was called "Why Why Why", but I guess that's a side-effect of only hearing it through terrible supermarket speakers for years and years (fun fact: I've also heard "Once in a Lifetime" at a supermarket...oh, and I heard David Bowie's "Sound + Vision" at a Chinese restaurant one time; now that was odd).
       Whatever the case -- "Wild Wild Life" is an absolutely brilliant song, one of the better straight-forward 80s pop songs I've ever heard; the chorus is ridiculously catchy, the lyrics are fun, the energy is unbeatable...yup, it's a classic. Oh, and there's also the accordion-driven "Radio Head", which is actually fantastic. Yeah, it's just a fun, silly pop song (like everything else on here), but it's a really well-written silly pop song. And yup, Radiohead got their name from the track; I find it especially ironic that Byrne describes the titular object as "the sound of a brave new world", obviously referencing the famous dystopian novel of the same name. I don't see anything particularly dystopian about Pablo Honey, but I think "the sound of a brave new world" is about as perfect of a description of OK Computer or Kid A as any.
       "Love for Sale" is a fun, surprisingly rocking number with an ridiculously raucous vocal performance from Byrne, and "Dream Operator" is a...well, it's actually a really touching ballad. The rolling piano lines are gorgeous, the guitar is beautifully atmospheric in a way almost reminiscent of Television (think "Elevation" or "Guiding Light"), and David gives the prettiest performance he's given since "Heaven". It might actually be better than "Heaven", crazy enough. 
        And "People Like Us" is just as pretty as that! It's sort of a cross between a traditional country song (complete with some of the best steel guitar work this side of Apollo and a wonderful hint of fiddle) and a classic Heads tune like "Found a Job", and yes, that means lots of jittery guitar work and a wonderful sing-a-long melody. Great stuff! It might be a little long, sure, but it's great!
   There's also another touching, "Heaven"-esque ballad in the from of the closing "City of Dreams", and...that's your album! It's not a classic, but it's fun, it's catchy, and it's surprisingly cathartic in more than a few places. It should be one of your last Heads purchases, but if you like the band I don't see why you wouldn't like this.

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