There is a world of difference between Talking Heads 77 and Remain in Light. The three years between those album represented a great evolution of songwriting and soundscape for the band.
The 1979 album Fear of Music signaled a seismic shift for the Talking Heads. The songs were brighter, edgier and showed a huge jump in sophistication. From their beginnings in 1975, the band already offered something more than other punk rock, new wave guitar groups.
A large part of their development can be traced to the addition of Brian Eno as producer. Eno added funk and dense atmospherics to the already eclectic songs offered from band writers, mainly David Byrne. “Life During Wartime,” “I Zimbra” and “Cities” were the singles but there are other treasures on this Gold selling album. It made number 21 on Billboard and deserved to be much higher. Eno uses the strength of the band, the ability to create and play strong rhythms to build the songs. He doesn’t over-complicate the songs in an effort to preserve the melodies and the freshness of their sound.
Remain in Light (1980) kicked the grooves up a notch. This is their most complete set of songs. “Crosseyed and Painless,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and “Houses in Motion” are the most accessible songs. The album is denser with rhythms and keyboard textures, with a double-dose of funk. The instrumental backbone of the album was recorded in the Bahamas and incorporated the musical influences being made popular outside of the U.S. including African rhythms. This became the band’s most critically acclaimed album and made many best album lists of the year and ranks high on Rolling Stone’s top 500 album list.
The band hit the road on tour, playing most of Remain in Light, using additional musicians to help fill out the sound. The tour was recorded for The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, a two disc set. One disc was the Talking Heads performing their older music, and the second disc is with the additional musicians playing Remain in Light. It is a funky, mesmerizing collection. If you are a fan, this is an essential addition to your collection.
Speaking in Tongues was the next album of original material, released in 1983. “Burning Down the House” and “Girlfriend is Better” are the best songs from the collection. Producer Eno was not onboard for this project and it lacks that quirky factor. The Talking Heads would produce the remainder of their albums.
Stop Making Sense a 1984 live album, and companion to the film. It sold two million copies. The best songs are the ones from Remain in Light, plus “Girlfriend is Better” and “Genius of Love.”
Little Creatures (1985) “Road to Nowhere” “And She Said” were charting singles, the rest of the album is somewhat uninteresting and repetitive.
True Stories (1986) “Wild Wild Life” was the most popular song on the collection, cracking the Billboard top 30. The Talking Heads were running out of ideas and Byrne’s singing had no variation.
Naked (1988) was their final studio album. Production was shared with Steve Lillywhite. Critics called this album better than their last several collections. “Nothing But Flowers,” “Mr Jones” and “Blind” are the best songs but the album contains a high degree of filler.
The Talking Heads are one of those bands that started out as one thing and evolved into something quite different. Their music matured and gained greater musical textures, with the help of Brian Eno. After Eno left the group, they tended to revert back to new wave days, featuring more of the four-piece combo. While this sound produced generally pleasing songs, the familiarity was colorless and did not challenge the listener. The Talking Heads were about challenging the sameness of the status quo, which they did, but in the end, that’s where they ended up, status quo.