Talking Heads

Sire, 1988

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


There is something to be said about discovering a band at the end of their career. Growing up in the ‘80s, I was familiar with the Talking Heads by way of MTV, but I didn’t own any of their albums. It was only in the ‘90s when I picked up a roommate’s copy of Naked that I was truly drawn to the band.

If I had discovered Naked after I tracked down Remain In Light, Fear Of Music and Stop Making Sense, I most likely would have fallen victim to the lazy pattern of too many music critics, which is to heap heavy praise on a band’s first few albums and then eventually cool to their later output. It’s an easy pattern to fall into, since an overwhelming majority of bands release their best material in the early stages of their career.

Unfortunately, if you fall too much into this pattern of assuming a band’s output grows more inferior as more albums are released, you tend to judge albums based on the group’s career path and not on the disc’s own merits. This makes me wonder if 20 years down the road, critics may eventually rediscover one of Ryan Adams or Prince’s tossed-off efforts as a “lost masterpiece.” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Anyway, back to Naked. It certainly doesn’t have the manic energy of the Talking Heads’ earlier releases. Instead of four musicians in a studio, the band recruited jazz, Algerian and Moroccan musicians, not to mention former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. The band also migrated to Paris for the recording. It may be overproduced, but somehow, all the elements work to create a great sendoff.

David Byrne’s voice is tremendously smoother and more controlled than on almost any other album from the Talking Heads. Drummer Chris Frantz and keyboardist Jerry Harrison are also more relaxed here as well. However, a relaxed sound doesn’t mean the songs are by any means lazy. The organic sound is matched by lyrics that incorporate some form of earthy elements. In the hilarious “Nothing But Flowers,” Byrne envisions a suburban box mall being overrun by daisies: “If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawnmower,” he sings in probably the most famous line in the album.

If Talking Heads 77 was the sound of a band heavily rooted in the New York City punk scene, Naked is the sound of those same punks in the suburbs. The sound is restrained and somewhat resigned, as Byrne even laments “I’m afraid that God has no master plan / He only takes  what he can use” in the song “The Facts Of Life.” It’s the sound of a band that had just discovered a new sound that could have generated another three albums, but the band chose to call it a day. Rather than eking out an album with a few radio hits like “Wild Wild Life,” the band took some sizeable risks with Naked and recorded an album that while appealing, contained no definitive radio hits.  It may not be the most dramatic disc to end a career with, but it’s worthy enough to be mentioned among the band’s best achievements.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+


Nice job Sean. I'm one of those who discovered TH early, but appreciate their latter work more as time has passed. Your analysis is exactly the kind of feeling I have about their career. Great from end to end, but I think they improved with age.

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