#364: More Songs About Buildings and Food, Talking Heads
I’m always in an interesting position when reviewing the Talking Heads. I love their music, but I’m not the biggest David Byrne fan. I’m in good company — not one but two of his former bandmates have gone on record saying that they hate his guts, with only Jerry Harrison having anything magnanimous to say about the guy.
But I’ve never met Byrne, so I’m not really allowed to hate him. Still, his voice inspires a kind of primal repulsion in me — when the album kicks off with “Thank You For Sending Me an Angel” and he starts his whooping, I can’t help but grimace. It’s a shame that David Byrne seems to treat his bandmates with such little regard, when it’s the instrumentation that makes this record listenable for me. (See: “The Good Thing” and “Warning Sign” for examples of Byrne’s heinous vocals juxtaposed against beautiful musicianship.)
There’s also the fact that he’s apparently the most smug person alive. He ridicules art school on “With Our Love,” gatekeeps artistry itself on “Artists Only,” and has some ridiculously condescending things to say about middle America on “The Big Country.” We get it, David Byrne, you’re better than everyone — congrats.
That said, songwriting is his strength, and he gets away with some incredibly clever concepts. “Found a Job” is about a couple that gets bored with watching TV, so they decide to make their own lives a TV show. My favorite consecutive pair of songs were “I’m Not in Love” and “Stay Hungry.” The former treats love like an illogical human phenomenon, and ends with Byrne declaring (somewhat chillingly) There’ll come a day when we won’t need love. Then the latter is an intimate portrait of a couple getting it on.
I like to think that this record’s genius has more to do with Brian Eno’s involvement than anything else. (Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance for me to love Eno but dislike Byrne…) This is the first of three albums the Heads made with Eno (the last being Remain In Light), which is probably why it’s such fun to listen to. And he’s directly responsible for their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” which Byrne reportedly resisted, until Eno suggested that they played it as slow as possible. It’s a cover that hardly registers as a cover, so inventive and cool is its bass-driven beat and its repetitive chords. It’s the best song on the record, and the only single. It’s also one of the few songs that you can sing along with.
One final note — I know that this has been a rather slanderous post about Byrne, but I absolutely loved the song he wrote with Mitski and Son Lux for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, “This Is a Life.” He had only kind things to say about working with Mitski, who is one of my favorite musical weirdos, but she did not appear with him to perform at the Academy Awards. I like to think it’s because she, too, can’t stand David Byrne.
Least Favorite Song: “The Girl Wants to Be with the Girls.” Something about David Byrne explaining why lesbians exist rubs me the wrong way.
Final Final Note: I really did enjoy this album, so forgive my snarkiness. That said, NONE of these songs are about buildings OR food?!?!