Speaking In Tongues Talking Heads

Album info



Label: Warner Music Group

Genre: Pop

Subgenre: New Wave

Artist: Talking Heads

Album including Album cover

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  • 1Burning Down The House04:01
  • 2Making Flippy Floppy05:54
  • 3Girlfriend Is Better05:43
  • 4Slippery People05:06
  • 5I Get Wild / Wild Gravity05:16
  • 6Swamp05:13
  • 7Moon Rocks05:45
  • 8Pull Up The Roots05:09
  • 9This Must Be The Place04:56
  • Total Runtime47:03

Info for Speaking In Tongues

Speaking in Tongues, Talking Heads' first studio release in three years, is the album that finally obliterates the thin line separating arty white pop music and deep black funk. Picking up where their 1980 Afro-punk fusion Remain in Light left off, this LP consummates the Heads' marriage of art-school intellect and dance-floor soul. Imbued with an adventurous spirit that's as close to Television's Marquee Moon as it is to Michael Jackson's Thriller, Grand Master Flash's 'The Message' and Nigerian high-life music, Speaking in Tongues gives new meaning to the word crossover.

The impish 'Making Flippy-Floppy,' the second track on side one, is an immediate tip-off that something new is going on here. 'Everybody, get in line!' commands singer-guitarist David Byrne as the Heads step straight into a brassy strut counted off by a scratchy guitar figure and Chris Frantz' martial drumming. Ominous synth-bass effects undulate beneath the surface of the beat before Byrne cuts into a bright, saucy chorus that would make Prince envious. Wobbly, whining synthesizers and a walking bass-and-piano line keep up the funk, while violinist L. Shankar shoots the whole affair into a strange Far Eastern space with his brief raga-like solo.

The Heads have never cut the funk into finer, more fluent pieces. Nor have they ever displayed such a sense of purpose and playfulness (check out, for example, the murky boogie and Byrne's comic John Lee Hooker growl in 'Swamp'). One detects here the influence of Frantz and his wife, bassist Tina Weymouth: on holiday from the Heads, they took the third-world forms and urban-funk gestures of Remain in Light and dressed them up with pop spangle and good humor on their Tom Tom Club LP.

Jerry Harrison's experiments with polyrhythmic keyboard layers on his solo LP, The Red and the Black, have also been incorporated into Speaking in Tongues. Along with P-Funkster Bernie Worrell and reggae keyboard specialist Wally Badarou, Harrison fortifies the beat with ahem color and contrapuntal muscle without complicating it.

But it is David Byrne's propulsive score for Twyla Tharp's 1981 dance piece The Catherine Wheel that may be the most important influence on Speaking in Tongues. The severe constraints of matching music to movement–of making music inspire expressive movement — forced Byrne to write and arrange his Catherine Wheel score with both crisp dramatic precision and provocative imagistic flair.

The nine songs on Speaking in Tongues — the group's first self-produced studio album — demonstrate that same precision and flair in remarkable combinations. On the surface, 'Girlfriend Is Better' is a brassy, straightforward bump number sparked by Byrne's animated bragging ('I've got a girlfriend that's better than that She has the smoke in her eyes She's comin' up, goin' right through my heart She's gonna give me a surprise') and by the kind of rapid, zigzagging synth squeals so common on rap and funk records. But the edgy paranoia smoldering underneath ('We're being taken for a ri-i-ide again,' a double-tracked Byrne brays woefully at one point) is colorfully articulated by guitar and percussion figures that burble along in a fatback echo, sounding like a sink backing up.

'I Get Wild/Wild Gravity,' Byrne's unsettling account of isolation and disorientation, alludes to the funky voodoo reggae of Grace Jones and is heightened by arty dub intrusions and electronic handclaps. 'Burning Down the House' is busier in its rhythmic design: tumbling drum breaks punctuate Frantz' authoritative pace, while springy synthesizer pings and the desolate chime of a keyboard solo rebound off Byrne's brisk acoustic-guitar strumming.

But the complexity of these songs doesn't keep any of them from being great dance tracks. They are all rooted in a shrewd yet elastic sense of rhythm, thereby avoiding the brittle, plastic feel of such glorified disco troupes as the Thompson Twins or Spandau Ballet. And unlike, say, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Byrne's academic safari with Brian Eno, Speaking in Tongues is an art-rock album that doesn't flaunt its cleverness; it's obvious enough in the alluring hooks, deviant rhythms and captivating mix of rehable funk gimmicks and intellectual daring.

The real art here is the incorporation of disparate elements from pop, punk and R&B into a coherent, celebratory dance ethic that dissolves notions of color and genre in smiles and sweat. A new model for great party albums to come. Speaking in Tongues is likely to leave you doing just that. (David Fricke, 1983 Rolling Stone Magazine)

Digitally remastered

At the start of their career, Talking Heads were all nervous energy, detached emotion, and subdued minimalism. When they released their last album about 12 years later, the band had recorded everything from art-funk to polyrhythmic worldbeat explorations and simple, melodic guitar pop. Between their first album in 1977 and their last in 1988, Talking Heads became one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the '80s, while managing to earn several pop hits. While some of their music can seem too self-consciously experimental, clever, and intellectual for its own good, at their best Talking Heads represent everything good about art-school punks.

And they were literally art-school punks. Guitarist/vocalist David Byrne, drummer Chris Frantz, and bassist Tina Weymouth met at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early '70s; they decided to move to New York in 1974 to concentrate on making music. The next year, the band won a spot opening for the Ramones at the seminal New York punk club CBGB. In 1976, keyboardist Jerry Harrison, a former member of Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers, was added to the lineup. By 1977, the band had signed to Sire Records and released its first album, Talking Heads: 77. It received a considerable amount of acclaim for its stripped-down rock & roll, particularly Byrne's geeky, overly intellectual lyrics and uncomfortable, jerky vocals.

For their next album, 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food, the band worked with producer Brian Eno, recording a set of carefully constructed, arty pop songs, distinguished by extensive experimenting with combined acoustic and electronic instruments, as well as touches of surprisingly credible funk. On their next album, the Eno-produced Fear of Music, Talking Heads began to rely heavily on their rhythm section, adding flourishes of African-styled polyrhythms. This approach came to a full fruition with 1980's Remain in Light, which was again produced by Eno. Talking Heads added several sidemen, including a horn section, leaving them free to explore their dense amalgam of African percussion, funk bass and keyboards, pop songs, and electronics.

After a long tour, the band concentrated on solo projects for a couple of years. By the time of 1983's Speaking in Tongues, the band had severed its ties with Eno; the result was an album that still relied on the rhythmic innovations of Remain in Light, except within a more rigid pop-song structure. After its release, Talking Heads embarked on another extensive tour, which was captured on the Jonathan Demme-directed concert film Stop Making Sense. After releasing the straightforward pop album Little Creatures in 1985, Byrne directed his first movie, True Stories, the following year; the band's next album featured songs from the film. Two years later, Talking Heads released Naked, which marked a return to their worldbeat explorations, although it sometimes suffered from Byrne's lyrical pretensions.

After its release, Talking Heads were put on 'hiatus'; Byrne pursued some solo projects, as did Harrison, and Frantz and Weymouth continued with their side project, Tom Tom Club. In 1991, the band issued an announcement that they had broken up. Shortly thereafter, Harrison's production took off with successful albums by Live and Crash Test Dummies. In 1996, the original lineup minus Byrne reunited for the album No Talking Just Head; Byrne sued Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison for attempting to record and perform as Talking Heads, so the trio went by the Heads. In 1999, all four worked together to promote a 15th-anniversary edition of Stop Making Sense, and they also performed at the 2002 induction ceremony for their entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Through the 2010s, Byrne released a number of solo and collaborative projects. Tom Tom Club continued to tour, while Harrison produced albums for the likes of No Doubt, the Von Bondies, and Hockey. (Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music)

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