Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Talking Heads -- More Songs About Buildings and Food -- Review

More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
Rating: 12
"I wouldn't live there if you paid me to"
Best Song: With Our Love
Worst Song: I have no idea.

       As you probably know, after the debut the band met a young producer by the name of Brian Eno. For those not in the know, Eno is one of the most brilliant and influential figures in pop music history, a force to be reckoned with as both a producer for many other successful artists (Devo, U2, and obviously Talking Heads) and in his own solo career (a series of reviews dedicated to said career will be written in due time). His influence on the Heads is immeasurable, and a great deal of their best material came as a result of his own direct involvement. While not nearly as revolutionary as the later Talking Heads/Eno collaborations, More Songs About Buildings and Food is a major step forward for the band. Eno took the quirky guitar-pop of the debut and forced the band to partake in an endless series of overdubbing sessions. Thus, the sound of the album is ridiculously dense with chugging guitar rhythms, synth effects, and bass grooves, and it works excellently, especially when compared to the relatively spare sound of '77
       The opening "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel" demonstrates this new style with a surprisingly high level of force. The name of the game here is momentum, as the band pummels (okay, that might be a bit too harsh of a word for Talking Heads, but you get the idea) over a powerful drumbeat and what is quite possibly the album's best vocal melody. It's nothing more than two straight minutes of pure exuberance, and it's a GREAT start to the whole affair. I'm especially fond of those ridiculously empowering guitar strums during the chorus -- "Yes you can *BANG* walk! You can *BANG* talk just like me!".
       "With Our Love" is another obvious highlight, featuring a great vocal melody along with some BRILLIANTLY layered guitar work and an amazing bass line. I also love how the first verse/chorus of the track is completely happy and chipper, but the second repetition of this section (which is musically identical to the first) comes across as moody/eerie/anthemic/whatever simply by the addition of a hardly noticeable, slightly ominous synth line. That's Eno for you -- completely redefining what a song is like by merely adding a subtle change in sound.
       "The Good Thing" combines some hilariously academic, geeky lyrics with a strangely inspiring chorus (Tina's backing vocals work excellently here) and a wonderful ending as the band jams out behind Bryne screaming "Watch me wooork!" over and over again. And don't forget about the subtly brilliant "Warning Sign"! Byrne's vocal melody isn't especially memorable here, but the instrumental texture is fantastic. The bizarre, echoey drum sound works together with a small army of disorienting guitar lines and an incessantly catchy bass groove to absolutely wonderful effect. Oh, and the creepy filter on David's voice is another excellent touch. "The Girls Want to Be with the Girls" would be notable enough just for being one of the first-ever LGBT anthems, but it also includes some wonderfully bouncy keyboard and an excellent guitar-driven after-chorus.
       The lyrics in "Found a Job" are some of the band's wackiest ever -- it's the story of a couple who save their marriage by creating their own television show; however, the contents of the show are left to the listener's imagination. Of course, the fact that "Judy's in the bedroom inventing situations" is a prominent line in the chorus gives us a hint, but who knows. The song's lyrics aren't the only objects of note, however; the guitar interplay here is at an all-time-high for the band, and the lengthy coda where Jerry and David jam over a wonderful steel drum melody is one of the greatest moments in all of Head-dom.
       "I'm Not in Love" isn't an especially memorable tune, but it seems that Eno noticed this and decided to dress it up in as dense an arrangement as possible -- as a result, the track still works, if only because the band flat-out COOKS during the instrumental sections. I also like the oft-hated "Big Country"; maybe it's just because the mere idea of Talking Heads doing a country song makes me slightly giddy, but I definitely enjoy the song more than not. Sure, the live version on Name of This Band is a definite improvement, but at least the original has some wonderful slide guitar work, eh?
       There are some other highlights here ("Stay Hungry" is another especially good one), but you get the idea -- this is a classic album through and through. The only reason it gets a slightly lower score than you might expect is that it's very samey throughout and the highs, while wonderful, aren't *quite* classic enough to put it over the edge. And, for the record, Eno produced ANOTHER post-punk album in 1978 that's even better than this one, but...that's a story for another time (I've got a gut feeling it'll come up again at some point in the future....*wink, wink*) . The band was soon to leave the world of minimalistic guitar rock behind, but their time in the genre was certainly not a waste. An excellent effort.

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