Saturday, September 17, 2016

1978 - More Songs About Buildings and Food

After several lackluster efforts on their part, I was hard pressed not to choose The Stones monumental Some Girls. And although it could vie for my attention as the first real New Wave LP, The Police's Outlandos d'Amour was an also-ran as well. Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town was Born to Run without the hope, the Boss at the pinnacle of lyrical prowess, but 1978 belongs to Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings and Food, art rock modernism that ushered in the New Wave era. Talking Heads '77 didn't have it, and Outlandos d'Amour hadn't determined a direction for The Police, but More Songs was a turning point for pop music. It wasn't Punk, though it came from the same era and venue, it was Punk Light that mattered, it was the birth of alt. (Had it been more impactful on its arrival and not light years ahead of its time, that distinction would have gone to Sparks' 1974 Kimono My House).

What better album could there have been for an awkward 16 year old? Pining. Dying. Always in love - and then David Byrne steps up to the mike and says: Forget about romantic love. It's not worth much anyways. Get serious. Get to work. O Captain my Captain. The musicianship on this - the Heads' second release - is amazing. Perfect, really. By the second song, "With our Love," you know these guys mean business:

"Forgot the trouble, that's the trouble -
With our Love, With our Love."

An achingly painful sentiment, expressed in the confines of an intense wall of guitar chops and a bone-jarring refrain. Sort of makes you feel nervously happy - nervous because music shouldn't be so intense, happy because the perfectly punctuated bass, percussion and guitars deliver the goods. It's a toe-tappingly cool song.

The songs here are without flaw. Each different from the other - neurotic vocals, synthesizers, reverb, percussion. "Girls Want to be with Girls" is a hoot - with a sort of an electronic choir of angels forming the refrain. Goofily irresistable. Then "Found a Job" smacks you in the face:

"Damn that television, what a bad picture -
don't get upset, it's not a major disaster."

The raunchy guitars repeatedly jab your ribs. And they don't let up. It remains one of the Heads' greatest songs, and one of Byrne's best lyrical inventions, telling the story of a problem couple who start creating their own TV shows at home. The song is sharp and cynical (and so fucking funny), and in its subtle ways the message is more powerful than in straightforward anti-social numbers like the classic "Psycho Killer." "Artists Only," "I'm Not In Love" and "Stay Hungry" are consistently engaging and challenging and keep the album running smoothly, even if "Stay Hungry" may have been more at ease on '77.

The last two tracks show just how much the Heads had grown in the past year. The cover of Al Green's Motown classic "Take Me To The River" instantly became a radio hit, and it's easy to see why: it's a top notch cover, every bit mindful of the original, and of the Motown sound, but infusing it with new life and modern soundscapes. The epic "The Big Country" is the best showcase of Byrne's song craftsmanship, and it remains one of his greatest creations. Byrne's mild and subtle sarcasm is immensely stronger and nastier than anything on '77, and the springboard for the best of what New Wave would wash ashore.

My father painted the billboard for Talking Heads '77. I sat with him on the scaffolding above Sunset and he said, "What kind of music is this?" He listened to KOST (Coast FM) and Anne Murray and John Denver, but in the 60s and 70s, he'd painted so many iconic billboards and met so many of the artists that he'd developed an appreciation for The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield and Elton John. "But this," he said. "I don't even know what it is." That sentiment is a part of why More Songs is AM's choice for 1978. Nobody'd ever heard anything like it.