Little Creatures may forever remain the most controversial of Talking Heads’ eight studio albums. Fans either love it or hate it. For me, it stands with 77 (see my review of that album) as one of the band’s two defining works.
With the four albums intervening between their debut and Little Creatures, the band turned itself over to, and then broke free of, Brian Eno, growing by successive leaps and bounds from the experience. Their intricate yet stark stylings took on and integrated every conceivable influence and then threw in the kitchen sink … and it was good. Their first post-Eno release, Speaking in Tongues, might well have been a doctoral thesis on all that they’d learned. It spawned their first Top Ten single, “Burning Down the House,” which was the album in a nutshell: frenetic, layered, and transcendent.
Little Creatures strips away the layers of influence and reveals the reborn essence of the bare-bones band. Yes, it’s “poppier” than 77, and it’s certainly a (ahem) creature of its time, the mid-’80s. The stripping is not complete, of course, and there are new adoptions and adaptations. But, once again, and for the first time in eight years, we see and hear the band as itself: Still in motion, yet in its own space rather than traveling between the spaces created by Eno.
Little Creatures is exactly the album I’d hope for from a working band at the top of their game: After six albums in eight years, they’ve still got things to say and they’re confident in their ability to say those things.
Don’t get me wrong: Little Creatures is not the “comfortable” album that some complain that it is. The next time David Byrne comes off as complacent will be the first time. Nonetheless, the whole work comes off as Talking Heads being Talking Heads instead of Talking Heads In Transition. Its optimistic “feel” is beautifully balanced and complemented by the continuing, veiled threat that “Psycho Killer” is about to jump out from behind the drapes.
The album’s two songs which seem to have retained permanent radio rotation slots — “And She Was” and “Walk It Down” — fall into the “optimistic” groove described above, of course … so much so that it’s easy to lose track of the quiet desperation in their instrumental shadows and in the undertones of Byrne’s voice. Listening to the whole album as a piece, especially “Give Me Back My Name” and “Road to Nowhere,” brings that desperation out.
Twenty years on, Little Creatures still justifies its own existence in spades as music for now, not just for then. The Rhino reissue in “dualdisc” CD/DVD format includes the videos for “And She Was” and “Road To Nowhere” (which hold up as well), and a Surround Sound version of the album.