Stop Making Sense (1999 Reissue)

Talking Heads

Sire Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/24/2008

Talking Heads was a phenomenon, an unlikely success in the age of AOR radio dominance.  At the height of punk angst, they were clinical and detached. In the midst of the fluffy, smug New Wave scene, they were cerebral and spare. Darlings of the college and indie music scene, they snuck their way into the major pop and rock charts with their quirky, mercurial sound. Few bands as esoteric in nature would have the kind of appeal they did in reaching a vast audience. The moved effortlessly from minimalist art-pop to funky world-beat to folksy acoustic sing-along with grace and panache.

The tour supporting their most successful studio album to date, Speaking In Tongues, was captured by filmmaker Jonathon Demme, and the result was an award-winning film and one of the finest live concert experiences ever captured. The accompanying album, though, was less well-received. The set list truncated the original sixteen tracks down to nine and reordered the songs as well. The 1999 reissue restores the complete set list and the re-mastered tracks offer a much better listening experience.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album opens with David Byrne performing a solo acoustic version of their first single, “Psycho Killer,” beginning a set of tracks from their early albums, including the jerky shuffle bop of “Thank You For Sending Me and Angel” and the rarely heard “Found A Job.” The opening part of the set is fairly spare and stripped down, a perfect reflection of their early work. The sonic gates are opened up wide when they kick into the tracks from Speaking In Tongues. “Slippery People,” “Girlfriend Is Better” and the ubiquitous MTV hit “Burning Down The House” bring on the funky grooves and world rhythms that provide the grease for the amazing sound machine that carries the rest of the show. The paranoiac dirge “Swamp” from the same album provides a creepy centerpiece to the show.

The Tongue tracks are the heart of the show. The band seemed to have harnessed their eclectic styles into a cohesive sonic vision that grooved, that rocked, and brought all the pieces together without losing any of their quirky appeal. Not to be overshadowed, the classic Heads tracks like “Life During Wartime” and “Once In A Lifetime” get a fresh presentation, fleshed out by the ensemble band and re-energized into funky stepchildren of their original stripped-down studio versions. The closing encores feature a version of the Heads cover of “Take Me To The River” that turns their original minimal treatment into a full blow Motown rave-up.

From beginning to end, there is barely a misstep across their varied selections. The dense, multi-layered reinterpretations of their older tracks breathe fresh life and fresh grooves into their sound without losing any of their charm. The newer tracks meld seamlessly with the older material into a solid, cohesive showcase of their dynamic live performance. One of the best live albums ever, it's a vital piece of their legacy, and a truly essential album even a casual fan should embrace.

Rating: A

User Rating: B+


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© 2008 Bruce Rusk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.