A disco-punk-pop-funk-whatever journey into the twisted world of Talking Heads

Talking Heads are a band that, unfortunately, the majority of today’s youth are mostly unfamiliar with. Perhaps then a greatest hits collection such as this will create some accessibility and introduce a whole new generation to a truly remarkable band. With a recording career spanning eleven years, in which time they managed ten albums including five golds, one platinum and two double-platinums, Talking Heads are a band whose fading away would be an utter travesty. ‘The Best Of Talking Heads’ is here to save us from a fate worse than death… or something.

Throughout the collection, the Talking Head sound is apparent. Although no two songs here sound the same, every Talking Heads song is unmistakably branded with the disco-funk-punk-pop-whatever rambling that is the sound of Talking Heads. This sound is universally liked, or, if not liked, universally appreciated. Nobody can listen to Talking Heads without tapping a foot or nodding a head. This sound is endearing and enduring, it still sounds fresh in the twenty-first century. This could be due to the ‘I’m-slightly-mad’ vocal delivery of David Byrne; it could be due to the solid rhythmic groove of the bass guitar and whatever percussion is currently being employed ensuring the song progresses beneath everything melodic or harmonic. A perfect example is track 2, the classic ‘Psycho Killer’. The interplay between the simple percussion, the strong basslines and David Byrne’s insanity-tinged vocals creates the slightly experimental sound that invokes a comfortable discomfort. There is, of course, the argument that Talking Heads’ sound is cheesy; the bird calls in the introduction to ‘Love – Building On Fire’ do nothing to refute this claim, but my response here is that this is pop music at its finest, and when has pop not been cheesy?

The clean, chord-based guitar parts interact with the rhythm parts to create a funk sound; the sheer simplicity is almost stunning in some tracks, for instance ‘Burning Down The House’ at track 13 is built on percussive sounds and vocal harmonies, punctuated with guitar chords. The difference between the simple and the complex songs can be heard, as can the differences in influences. The beginning of the compilation sees more standard instrumentation and ideas, with songs such as ‘Take Me To The River’ and ‘Found A Job’, jumping out as disco-tinged classics, while the end of the album sees a larger expansion of ideas and a greater use of synthetic sound. The Talking Heads pop-funk is retained throughout.

Talking Heads are unafraid of non-standard instrumentation and the use of electronic sounds. The album is full of surprises, from the steel drums of ‘Uh Oh, Love Comes To Town’, through the synth sounds of ‘Life During Wartime’, through the rich gospel choir harmonies that begin ‘Road To Nowhere’ all the way to the brass sound in ‘Blind’ and the Latin feel of ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’. The song selection here will please the majority of people, featuring the favourites as well as some unexpected tracks to keep the die-hard fans happy.

As firmly as I believe in their undislikeability, I can see how some people may not get along with the constant tempo, overly happy-sounding, pop-funk of Talking Heads, and I can understand how, after eighteen tracks, some people may grow tired of Byrne’s rambling vocal delivery. In all fairness though, I believe that this album will be enjoyed and well received by fans and non-fans alike, and ownership thus would gain any music fan an extra credibility point in my eyes.