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Speaking In Tongues (180 Gram Vinyl)
Vinyl + Audio CD | 180 gram
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Speaking In Tongues
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The Heads released Speaking in Tongues, the first album of new material in three years, in 1983. (A limited edition release of 50,000 copies featured a complex cover designed by artist Robert Rauschenberg. Subsequent copies boasted a simpler design by Byrne.) It was their highest-charting album ever (Number 15, 1983) and yielded their biggest hit single, "Burning Down the House" (Number Nine, 1983), which was also featured in an eye-catching video that MTV had in heavy rotation. They toured with an expanded band including Alex Weir, a guitarist with the Brothers Johnson. The tour was documented in the acclaimed movie "Stop Making Sense," directed by Jonathan Demme. The soundtrack (Number 41, 1984) spent nearly two years on the pop albums chart.
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"Speaking in Tongues" arose out of improvisation. The band sat in the studio and played together and tightened the lyrics and the music and released an album. It probably sounds far easier than the reality. This also accounts for the change in song writing credits for this album and "Remain in Light." All songs now get credited to every band member rather than just David Byrne. Byrne sang the vocals extemporaneously during the sessions and some of his original ramblings remained on the final mix. The album's title then provides an apt analogy for at least the lyrical methodology. Though the new approach and credits suggest more collaboration, the individual members had gone their separate ways during the three year gap between albums. Byrne had recorded two solo records, Frantz and Weymouth formed "The Tom Tom Club" and scored a hit of their own, and Harrison had even recorded a solo album. They finally came together again to create a fetchingly danceable album.
"Making Flippy Floppy" contains an ethereal violin solo by Shankar that reaches in and grabs something primordial. Razor slices and gurglings punctuate the incomprehensibly comprehensible lyrics of "Girlfriend is Better." The lines "we're being taken for a ride again" and "nothing was lost, everything's free, I don't care how impossible it seems" still resonate today. They may even prophetically define our current times. "Slippery People," we've all known some, includes an infectious groove and more profoundly dadaist lyrics. The skippy "This Must be the Place (Naive Melody)" seems to provide a rare bittersweet moment of consolation in the Talking Head's catalog, but something sinister bubbles beneath the surface, again revealed by the lyrics, "the less we say about it the better, make it up as we go along" and "It's okay, I know nothing's wrong, nothing." Though some genuinely touching moments peek through, such as "Out of all those kinds of people, you got a face with a view" and "and you love me till my heart stops, love me till I'm dead." A great mellow album closer.
Many of these songs received new, sometimes more frenetic, treatments for the concert film "Stop Making Sense," which may make the original albums versions feel slightly more lax for those who experience the concert before the album. The movie also featured a sampling of songs from the album, leaving some truly great tracks slightly obscured. "I Get Wild/Wild Gravity" contains a hearty mix of juicy groove. "Moon Rocks" opens with the classic line "Flying saucers, levitation, yo, I could do that" and doesn't let up through "talkin' transubstantiation, any version will do" and "Moon in the rock, rock in the moon, there's a moon in my throat." Its angular funky beat evokes the rage of "Remain in Light." One wonders just how awesome "Pull Up the Roots" would have sounded in the "Stop Making Sense" set list. The fiery chorus provides one of the most powerful moments on the entire album. Of course immensely evocative stream of consciousness lines permeate the entire number: "Well I have a good time when I go out of my mind," "towns that disappeared completely, pull up the roots, pull up the roots," "I don't mind some slight disorder" and "and I hear beautiful sounds coming outta the ground, gonna take us a while but we'll go hundreds of times."
"Stop Making Sense," the film and the soundtrack, re-invented the band yet again, but this time also visually. Sadly, things fell apart and the band never toured again. "Speaking in Tongues," though not the end by any means, does seem like the end of the heightened creative progression and innovation that evolved during their first five albums. The next two albums put Byrne back in the writer's seat exclusively and furthered the band's commercial exposure, though some critics and long time fans found the new "for the people" direction regressive, despite many admittedly strong songs. Regardless of diverse personal opinions, the Talking Heads were never the same after "Speaking in Tongues." The "bad blood" Byrne later spoke of seemed to start during "Stop Making Sense" and then climaxed a few years later as the band members openly defied and betrayed each other. One can feel some of this tension on a 1983 David Letterman appearance (now easily accessible via the new museum of television called "YouTube"). After finishing a rousing live version of "Burning Down the House" only Byrne runs forward to Letterman's desk for an interview. The remaining band members, who share equal writing credits with Byrne, fade into blackness in the background. Then Byrne appeared by himself on the cover of Time Magazine. The other band members appeared almost parenthetically on the inner pages. Then, as if to even the score, a scathing Rolling Stone article featured other band members excoriating Byrne. It was sad. Wounds that apparently won't heal continue to the present day. It happens. Regardless of depressing personal politics, no one can deny the freshness and vitality that the Talking Heads brought to popular music during their insanely provocative run on the pop music scene. Their voluminous contributions still feel unprecedented and unsurpassed today.
"Speaking in Tongues" includes some of the Talking Heads' most well-known tracks, e.g., "Burning Down the House" and "Girlfriend is Better." I still remember seeing the "Burning Down the House" music video on MTV when that amazing station finally reached us from the east coast.
Fantastic music by a group known for it's clipped musical style and interesting, some would say eclectic lyrics and sound.
5 stars all the way!