Talking Heads : Warning Sign
On July 21, 1978 Talking Heads released More Songs About Buildings and Food, kicking off a four year association with producer Brian Eno. With Eno's ability to use the studio as an instrument, Talking Heads moved from the spare sounds of ...77 to fuller far more interesting arrangements. Eno and band members also shared a growing interest in African music .
Some fun facts:
Eno corralled the entire secretarial pool at Compass Point Studios in Nassau to join Tina Weymouth (as Tina and Typing Pool) to sing on "The Good Thing".
Among the Enoisms: the dub-influenced repeat echo on Chris Frantz's drum on 'Warning Sign". There are sonic treatments on every song really.
Among the proposed album titles: Oh! What a Big Country, Tina and the Typing Pool and, from Jerry Harrison, Fear of Music. It was Tina's asking her husband whether anyone would really buy more songs about buildings and food that they found the title.
Like a dealer playing three card monte, I am constantly alternating what tops my list of favorite Talking Heads albums. More Songs is certainly one of the band's peaks. It broke the band in the US, peaking at 29 on the Billboard charts.
Now for some contemporaneous reviews : here's Ken Emerson writing for Rolling Stone :
On More Songs about Buildings and Food, David Byrne sings the word feelingssssss with a puppy's yelp that turns into a snaky hiss. Even the ostensibly jubilant "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel" hurtles to an abrupt coitus interruptus: "But first, show me what you can do!" If, in one song, Byrne chides the girls for ignoring the boys ("Girls, they're getting into abstract analysis"), in most of the others, Byrne himself seems frantically to be staving off amorous involvement: "I've got to get to work now" (the traditional male equivalent of "Not tonight, honey -- I've got a headache"). Indeed, the word work recurs throughout the record as the singer both pushes and parodies the Protestant ethic: (Not since the Four Freshmen has there been a group as Protestant and downright preppie as Talking Heads.) Love wreaks havoc on the rational, workaday world, and David Byrne's comic cold shoulder recalls the more strenuous resistance of Joni Mitchell, so many of whose songs have expressed a similar fear that love will deflect her artistic career.
Love and work, of course, is what Freud said all of us need, but on More Songs about Buildings and Food, Byrne appears able to imagine the proper equilibrium only in "Found a Job," wherein a bickering couple's relationship improves while collaborating on television scripts. He sings about this improvement with considerable sarcasm, though, and elsewhere on the LP, love and logic are at loggerheads. The tension between the two, like the similar tension Bryan Ferry creates between sentimentality and sophistication, is excruciating, and when it snaps in the album's final song, "The Big Country" (a title taken from a line in Ferry's "Prairie Rose"), Byrne is bounced into the void. Flying over the United States, he looks down with regret and revulsion at life below: "I wouldn't live there if you paid me." Yet, at the same time, he's "tired of traveling" and wants "to be somewhere." Like a hijacked airplane that no nation will permit to land,the singer seems doomed to fly until his fuel is exhausted and he plummets to a fiery death.
Sound gloomy? Well it would be if Byrne didn't see hilarity in tight-assed hysteria and laugh at his Puritan pratfalls. Or if coproducer Brian Eno, once Bryan Ferry's colleague in Roxy Music, hadn't crammed so much humor and energy into each song. The cerebral, brittle sound of Talking Heads: 77 has been fleshed out with supple synthesizer fills, and Chris Frantz' drums and the synthesized percussion leap boldly out of the mix. Almost every cut has a percussive gimmick -- handclaps, clattering rim shots, a heavily echoed backbeat -- that rivets the attention, punctuating the melody or hammering home the words.
These arrangements bustle without sounding cluttered. Whenever the agitated jangle of guitars starts to nag, it slips into something mellifluous. Thus "The Girls Want to Be with the Girls" shuttles back and forth between the staccato attack of a mid-Sixties garage band and the playful lilt of a nursery rhyme. "Stay Hungry" manages to meld James Brown, the early Beatles ("Things We Said Today") and a "progressive"-rock synthesizer. The eclecticism of More Songs about Buildings and Food -- its witty distillations of disco and reggae rhythms, its reconciliation of "art" and punk rock -- is masterful. The music represents a triumph over diversity, while the words spell out defeat by disparities between mind and body, head and heart.
This, presumably, is why Talking Heads make music -- and superb music at that. Because talk is cheap.
Robert Christgau of the Village Voice gave the album an A, writing :
Here the Heads become a quintet in an ideal producer-artist collaboration -- Eno contributes/interferes just enough. Not only does his synthesized lyricism provide flow and continuity, it also makes the passive, unpretentious technological mysticism he shares with the band real in the aural world. In fact, there is so much beautiful music (and so much funky music) on this album that I'll take no more complaints about David Byrne's voice. Every one of these eleven songs is a positive pleasure, and on every one the tension between Byrne's compulsive flights and the sinuous rock bottom of the music is the focus. I have more doubts than ever about Byrne's post-hippie work-ethic positivism -- on one new song, he uses the phrase "wasting precious time" and means it -- but if it goes with music this eccentric and compelling I'm damn sure going to hear him out.
Jim Harrington adds this observation in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die :
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