Talking Heads – 77

Today marks a slight bit of relief from the pain of existence, for I buckled down and purchased some “replacement” headphones for my beloved Shure SE530’s, which I still need to send in for service. I bought a set of Shure SE210’s, which sounds good enough to get me by until I finally get my babies taken care of.

To celebrate this turn of events, I think it’s time for some new music, by which I mean New Wave music, and who better (besides Elvis Costello I guess) to represent the genre than Talking Heads and their “debut” album 77:

Clearly all the creativity went into the actual music, that's what they tell me anyway. There is apparently some confusion as to whether this album is called Talking Heads: 77, or simply 77. Here’s the thing, I know such an abstract album cover such as this leaves a LOT to interpretation, but two things are clear about this album. One, the band who recorded it are called Talking Heads, and two, the name of the album is 77. There’s no reason to include the band name in the album title, because exactly how many other albums are called 77?

Sorry, didn’t mean to get off on a tangent there, it’s just Wikipedia perplexes me sometimes.

Talking Heads have always been an intriguing band to me. I can remember all the way back to my days of youthful teenageriness wherein just about anyone who knew that I like They Might Be Giants would invariably ask if I’d heard the Talking Heads. Since I hadn’t, this became a thing of much consternation among my culturally concerned friends. Apparently I was missing out on the band of the century if I hadn’t yet heard Talking Heads!

Well, the opportunity presented itself in the form of Zune and Nice Headphones, so I went about downloading all the albums I could and listening to them in order. Indeed, this is a band that follows very closely to my sensibilities. I enjoy unusual lyrics and/or singing, melodies and instrumentation that do not draw from the usual sources, and of course, kickin’ bass-lines. Turns out, Talking Heads has all that going for them. Not only do we have the “who knows” lyrics from David Byrne as well as his batty singing, but it’s backed up by some very solid musicians including Tina Weymouth, a female bassist who is actually really good!

Now, don’t try and trap me into an admission of sexism here, it’s a well-known musical cliché that if a woman is going to join a rock group, it’s either going to be as a groupie/manager, tamborine/backup singer, or bassist. Female bassists who are actually good at playing the bass are as proportionately rare as male bassists who are actually good, and given the actual population of female bassists, that puts the number at about 2 or 3, which I gladly count Tina Weymouth in as one of them. Her bass-lines, at least throughout this album, utilize some hidden parts of the melody that are just begging to be played, as well as keeping the low rhythms all accounted for, and in the case of the first song “Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town”, even manages to throw some funkiness in there.

The other musicians in the group are no slackers either, Chris Frantz is a solid drummer, maybe not 12th best rock drummer ever like some magazine decided he was, but still a very solid drummer. Of course, he is also husband to Tina Weymouth, perpetuating that whole “romance in the band” stereotype while smashing apart that divorce rate statistic since they’ve been married since the 70’s.

The guitars, in keeping with New Wave tradition (which, given that this is one of the first New Wave bands, I guess kind of starts the tradition huh?) are not flashy or anything. Mainly we’ve got rhythms and simple, one-note riffs, mainly juxtaposing two rhythm parts played by Byrne and guitarist Jerry Harrison, a good example being the second song, “New Feeling”. I have no complaints, of course, searing lead solos don’t really have a place among steel drums (I’m looking at you, Hot Tuna).

The third song is particularly close to my heart, as it’s got a really cool bass-line made up of 3 thumps and a run-down note that maintains throughout the song no matter what, well, until the end of the chorus anyway. The other part is that the song reminds me as much of a They Might Be Giants song as it does a song from the video game Earthbound, which is my favorite video game. If I were the type of person who would deign to use a phrase like “Quirky”, it would go to this song, but instead I am going to say it’s very clever.

“Happy Day” wins all the creative points I have, but lines must be drawn when it comes to vocal melodies between “avant garde” and “kind of annoying”. Unfortunately, David Byrne crosses this invisible line in every line of the chorus with his squeaky “Happy… DEEhay”. A minor complaint, but not a whole lot else goes on in this song (besides the bass which is in very good form) so maybe it has yet to grow on me.

“Who Is It” is a song that’s kind of all over the place. It changes keys and rhythms seemingly on a whim, and Byrne’s vocals are starting to become dangerously eccentric (though a little more adorable in this track), but the track never comes close to being annoying, partially due to its length of just over a minute.

“No Compassion” pulls a similar trick, except that it’s solid all the way through its 4 1/2 minutes, even when it switches to what sounds like a different song half-way through. I really love this song, mainly due to a sort of guitar hook that happens in every chorus, and the song gets really interesting at the 3 1/2 minute mark where it fades out and brings in a strange guitar solo which sounds a lot like someone just picking muted strings with some light effects. Either way, the song kicks back to normal and then ends the A-side with a nod of approval.

The B-side of the album, admittedly, is much the same as the A-side, with not many stories to tell (there’s a mandolin on “Don’t Worry About The Government” that seems out of place), but it is home to one of the most famous songs ever. Yep, bringing up that less-than-coveted “penultimate” spot on the album is “Psycho Killer”, which is such a catchy song that it was included on the game Rock Band 2 simply based on the fact that people can not resist singing along to the chorus of “Oh oh OOOH AY YAI YAI YAI”, and the chorus is probably the only reason most American know the French phrase “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

You know, I just watched a couple of episodes of Dexter tonight, maybe that was why I subliminally chose this album? Either way, “Psycho Killer” is a certified hit in my book, because who doesn’t like songs about serial killers, half in French, and driven mainly by the bass-line by a groovy chick indeed? If you point out this person to me please excuse me while I throw up on them.

And that’s 77, the first in a not-long-enough line of great albums by a band I probably should have listened to way earlier in life, but you know how it goes. Until next time!

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