The Heat Goes On
Its easy to forget amongst all the post-punk-funk reissues around, who really were the masters of whiteboy funk in the early 1980s. I certainly needed reminding - and the expanded and remastered double CD The Name of This Band is Talking Heads certainly did just that.

Talking Heads started playing jittery, scratchy, nervous ‘songs about buildings and food’ [as their second album was called], got artier and weirder as their horizons expanded and they networked and got produced by Brian Eno, and then suddenly got funk. 1980 and 81 [the second CD here] finds them touring as a big band, with extra bass from Bernie Worrell, guitar and guitar noise from Adrian Belew, extra keyboards from Bernie Worrell and various others on backing vocals and percussion. The sound is as big as the band - awesome in fact! And listen hard and what initially seems a simple beat pounding away reveals itself as a layered, shifting mass of variant- and cross- rhythms. Most of their masterpiece Remain in Light LP is here, and what it loses in subtlety it gains in effect and power.

So, Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’ becomes a huge gospel-funk number and the mysterious [on LP] ‘The Great Curve’ abandons any creepiness for intensity. The central triptych of ‘Houses in Motion’, ‘Born Under Punches’ and ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ are superb: each gathers momentum as it goes, as Byrne and cohorts shriek, moan and sing their hearts out over the bump’n’grind of this expanded band.

The first CD is good, too, but doesn’t compare to the second. Here Byrne is still nervous and unsure as a singer, the early 1977 tracks show a band still finding their feet and learning to play their songs. I don’t mean they can’t play, however rooted in New York punk they were, I mean they simply have these great songs they aren’t making the most of yet. ‘Electricity’ is a case in point - it appears as ‘Electricity [Drugs]’ on the 1978 set, and as ‘Drugs [Electricity]’ on the second, where it’s a different beast altogether. One that’s finally had life breathed into it!

Most reissues are, of course, a con to make us buy another copy of the same stuff, but here Rhino really have done the listener a favour and almost doubled the amount of music previously on this release. Although bootlegs such as Emitting Diodes have allowed us to hear the big version of Talking Heads before, it doesn’t come close to in sound or dynamics to this official reissue. For the moment, The Pop Group, Gang of Four, James Chance and all the other funk pretenders can move over and make way for Talking Heads.

© 2004 Rupert Loydell