The phrases that most easily come to mind when I think about this album are ‘burning down the house’ for obvious reasons and the refrain of ‘stop making sense’ from the track “Girlfriend is Better” off of side A. This makes a fair bit of sense, given the former was the band’s only American top-ten hit and the fact that by David Byrne’s own admission, he made an album and created lyrics subsequently to fit the nonsense originally sung over the music composed by Talking Heads.
It is not a typical Talking Heads album given the previous prevalence of Brian Eno’s production. It is still a seminal work for the band andy Byrne in particular, in that it is as though the student has finally demonstrated a mastery of the teacher’s technique. It is more musically minimalistic than previous albums, especially if compared to Remain in Light, though lyrically it seems far more complex. Perhaps it is a commentary on the public discourse of the era, in which mass corporate communications were first beginning to make headway into the American popular discourse and create their own authority via the immediacy of their preferred medium. In another sense, perhaps it is the Talking Heads recognizing the danger of the new meta-talking head, made dangerous by combining sub-par intellect with state-of-the-art tools of communication. If the lyrics on side-A leave you confused about what exactly you’re listening to, then maybe Byrne has succeeded more than he expected.
I find the album perfectly listenable, enjoying the highs and lows, the elements of new wave, funk and reggae blending into one another, the stripped down instrumentation covering the sonic range while re-enforcing the cooperative ‘drum-circle’ spirit Byrne had explored with Eno on previous collaborations. That said, I remember the first time I listened to this album, perhaps about eight years ago, and finding it almost unbearable. It grew on me, and still does. And aside from the admissions of gibberish and nonsensical lyrics, and i can only say I agree completely with Robert Christgau in his opinion ‘Swamp’ is one of the greatest anti-Capitalist songs ever written (indeed, the album is exceptionally political and highly critical of early-1980s American society) and This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) is perhaps one of the greatest pro-Love songs of all time. I couldn’t agree more with that last bit too – it is an exceptional love song; sincere, timeless and real.
– Girlfriend is Better
– Slippery People
– Moon Rocks
– Pull Up the Roots
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I’ve been a big fan of Talking Heads and David Byrne for years – actually, since I was a child, aged ten listening to Stop Making Sense over and over again while playing G.I. Joe with my brother. What can I say, Joe had some funky adventures.
This album opens with a track I found almost unlistenable at first, America is Waiting, which features a sample of an irate talk-radio host. The prodigious and precautions use of sampling on this album in fact held back its release, and it still stands as a shining example of a very early use of the technique. Moreover it is an analog recording, and therefore the samples would have had to have been synched manually, a difficult and frustrating task which often led to chance discoveries and happy accidents. The sampling itself, which also includes Lebanese mountain singers, an exorcism and radio evangelists sits in interesting juxtaposition to the African rhythms, which are complexly overlaid resulting in an intricately interwoven tapestry of funky punctuation. Eno would later say he thinks the principally innovative factor isn’t the sampling itself inasmuch as how the sampling is used as the principle vocals.
When I first looked up this album to get some basic background information, I was astounded to see Robert Christgau, who I usually think is right on the money, gave this album a C+ rating. What can I say, I was intrigued and I was expecting a half-assed musical diversion. After listening to this album maybe about a dozen times over the last few days I can say that its consistent, innovative and in some cases infectious, and worth more than a C+ for the arrangements alone and musical experimentation alone.
Peter Gabriel’s fourth eponymous album, (released as Security’ in North America) does indeed feature the single Shock the Monkey, a song Peter Gabriel describes as a love song. I always liked it, even before I knew what it was about, for its unique musical stylings, not to mention the oft-repeated and somewhat bizarre (possibly sexual?) hook. I didn’t entirely know what to expect, although I was curious to see what would lead into Shock the Monkey.
The album is definitely moody, at times triumphant, at times compelling, but without a doubt generally enigmatic. I don’t know how to describe it because the sound he creates across the album is unique and different from its constituent parts, which include Ghanian drums, tapes and loops, synths and funk-like bass lines. It’s as much a ‘world-music’ album as it is a proto-industrial one, and fits comfortably in the pantheon of New Wave. I’d compare it to the Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light”, or Byrne & Eno’s “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” though these are far from direct comparisons. At other times you hear what was clearly established back when Gabriel was fronting Genesis, at other times I’m convinced he’s channeling what Boards of Canada was seeking fifteen years later.
A refreshing sound for someone who thought he was getting weary of the Rolling Stones.
This is a fascinating album for several reasons. For one, both sides are bookended with triumphant, soaring motifs – it is as if the Stones were ecstatic they found their musical foundations after their enigmatic previous release, 1967’s Their Satanic Majesty’s Request. After wandering in the desert it seems the Stones came back in 1968 with a deviant new confidence, one made all the more significant given their foreign mastery of a principally American sound. Dear Doctor is a prime example of mature heavy blues.