Tuesday, May 13, 2014

'77 -- Talking Heads -- Review

Talking Heads: 77 (1977)
Rating: 11
"Be a little more selfish, it might do you some good!"
Best Song: Tentative Decisions
Worst Song: First Week/Last Week...Carefree

       A wonderful debut. It doesn't reach quite the heights of the band's later work, and the production isn't nearly as special as it eventually would be (don't worry, Eno will be here soon!), but the songwriting is already at a high level, and the band is already startlingly sharp in their precision. This is essentially an album of nothing more than quirky, catchy guitar-pop songs, but they're nearly all classics on one level or another, and there's a surprisingly great deal of diversity to be found here.
       Not to mention that the album's guitar work is uniformly brilliant. Most reviewers seem to skip over this fact, opting instead to fawn over the band's guitar style on the famed live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads. Don't get me wrong, the '77 tracks found on Name of This Band are wonderful, but the guitar interplay here is just as excellent. The only difference is that the guitars aren't mixed nearly as loud, leading to a good deal of people glossing over them. But don't! -- the riffage on tracks like "New Feeling", "Don't Worry About the Government", and "Psycho Killer" is of a jaw-dropping quality. The band also indulges in a great deal of instrumental experimentation here that they would eventually abandon, for better or worse. You get some nice steel drums on the opening "Uh-Oh! Love Has Come to Town" (giving the track a wonderfully bouncy reggae feel), some tasty saxophone solos on "First Week/Last Week", some barroom piano here and there...it works wonderfully, and these little instrumental touches often provide a great boon to helping distinguish the various tracks and making them stand out even more.
       Highlights include the classic "Psycho Killer" (it of the infamous "oh-ho-ho-ohhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHH, AY-AYE-YEAH-YEAH-YEAAHH-OOOOOOOOoooooo" chorus) which has, for some odd reason, become one of the band's best known songs; the aforementioned pop of "Love Has Come to Town; and the AWESOME "Pulled Up", featuring some of the best New Wave riffs imaginable along with one of Byrne's most inspired deliveries ever.
       Hell, this whole album features some of Byrne's most inspired deliveries ever. Aside from "Pulled Up" and "Psycho Killer", he's also excellent in the hysterically quirky "Happy Day" (I love how it almost sounds like he's in serious physical pain as he squeals "it's such a happy...DAYYY-AY" in such a disturbing way, giving the otherwise pleasant ballad a touch of menace and dark irony) and the wondrously geeky love song "The Book I Read".
       On the bizarrely anthemic, multi-part "No Compassion" (which just so happens to feature a brilliant mid-song instrumental breakdown and some of the album's very best guitar lines), Byrne takes on the guise of one who is constantly looked to for answers, and he doesn't necessarily like this position. "Talk to your analysts!" he sings, "Isn't that what they're paid for?" He plays a similar character during the WONDERFUL "Tentative Decisions", another song that one could easily describe as anthemic. David dishes out romantic advice in the way that only he can as martial drumbeats, skitchy guitar lines, and infinitely catchy backing vocals (good luck getting the chorus out of your head -- I've been humming "Oh, the boys...want to talk..." for a good two weeks) accompany him. A criminally underrated track, and in my opinion, it's secretly one of the band's very best.
       Yes, it's a great album. A few songs might be a little forgettable ("Who Is It", "The Book I Read", and "First Week/Last Week" don't do a whole lot for me in particular) and the sound gets a *bit* samey after a while, but the vast majority of the material here is pretty freaking delightful. It might not be their greatest album, but it just might be their most fun. Get it soon.

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