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Talking Heads - Speaking In Tongues CD (album) cover


Talking Heads


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3.66 | 100 ratings

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3 stars After putting out four full-length LPs in as many years the popular Talking Heads enterprise took three years off to recharge their flagging, tour-jaded batteries. While some fans were worried such a long hiatus might spell the end of the group, "Speaking in Tongues" quickly put such fears to rest. Electronic synth pop music was all the rage in 1983 but this brave outfit took it to another dimension due to their unabated pioneering spirit that kept them out on the cutting edge rather than becoming lost as an indefinable part of the mob. It was ensembles like Talking Heads that were just progressive enough to keep our beloved genre from disappearing beneath the tide of MTV- infected wannabes that flooded the music scene in the early 80s. All proggers owe them at least a modicum of gratitude for staying weird.

The record opens with the inimitable "Burning Down the House." It's an iconic tune that was able to successfully incorporate the more admirable aspects of the New Wave phenomenon without succumbing to its banality. Chris Frantz's roiling drum track and percussive synth injections give it an irresistible drive that's offset by ghostly incidental wafts of sounds and David Byrne's exaggerated vocals. The fact that it rose to #9 on the singles charts did wonders for the album's visibility and it still holds up today as a stunning piece of music. "Making Flippy Floppy" follows, a busy funk presentation augmented by a salvo of adventurous synth experimentations and unusual percussion instruments and/or effects. Another highlight of the album is "Girlfriend is Better." I so admire their dedication to establishing a strong foundational groove first, something extremely important too many of their peers were prone to overlook. This number has one that's a mile deep. David's highly individual vocal style adds to the track's undeniable mystique. "Slippery People" is next. While other New Wave acts were striving with all their might to be viewed as cute oddballs this band was happy to be wandering off on their own uncommercial tangent. Here they bring in an R&B spirit to flow atop a bubbly soundtrack, creating a decent meld of unexpected influences.

"I Get Wild - Wild Gravity" has a bit of a casual Ska feel to it that runs through the tune from beginning to end. There's a clean, minimalist mindset at work here I find intriguing, especially considering the stilted era it came out in. "Swamp" is one of the better cuts. It owns a loping shuffle that keeps things from becoming overly predictable and Byrne's half-spoken delivery creates a semi-bluesy atmosphere. Not run-of-the-mill fare by any means and I love the delicate bizarreness of it all. "Moon Rocks" marks the low point of the proceedings due to its ordinariness. It sounds as if they came up with a basic repeating pattern one night and then starting adding things along the way. It's not a deal-killer by any means but I can't find much to brag about it. They close with "Pull Up the Roots." It sports kind of a Prince-styled pop-ish rhythm that has the potential to become boring in a hurry but David's intertwining vocal lines on the chorus are inventive and they grant the song a certain distinction. Still, it falls a tad short of being remarkable.

"Speaking in Tongues" was released on May 31, 1983 and peaked at number 15. Not too shabby a showing after the quartet had been somewhat invisible for three years. It was also done without the production genius of Brian Eno (who had moved on to help mold U2 into an industry juggernaut). Standing on its own it's not going to blow any proggers away but when analyzed in the context of what was going on in music in 1983 it deserves to be afforded a certain amount of respect for its character alone. 3.2 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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