My awareness of the Talking Heads began in March 1976, when they played CBGB’s as the opening act for the kings and queen of the New York punk rock scene, Television and The Patti Smith Group. When they came out on the tiny stage, I wasn’t sure what to think– the trio looked pretty geeky. David Byrne wore a wrinkled, multi-colored button down shirt and “high-water” beige slacks. Tina Weymouth was almost entirely obscured by her bass, and drummer Chris Frantz seemed to be confused about where they were playing that night. However, the amalgam of Byrne’s scratchy punk-oriented guitar rock with Weymouth’s and Frantz’s clipped funk rhythm was something to behold. It sounded a little like Funkadelic without the horns and keyboards backing The Velvet Underground.
As they say, the rest is history. After Brian Eno took them under his production wing and cleaned them up a bit, the group became monstrously successful, dwarfing the popularity of the two more influential bands that played CB’s that evening. Fear of Music, the groups third album, is something of a testament to the rawer elements from which the band grew from. Recorded in a rehearsal loft on Long Island, producer Eno captures the vitality of a band on the eve of stardom, before the ego clashes, fights about money, and endless touring wears their patience thin. It’s impossible to add anything new to the critical exchange about this classic album. However, this particular re-issue from retro giant Rhino Records is a particularly charming addition to the ‘Heads discography because of the outtakes from the original sessions it uses as bonus tracks. Two of these pieces, “Life During Wartime” and “Cities,” feature a cranked, feedback laden guitar that acts as a buzz saw through the middle of each track, muting Byrne’s vocals in favor of the metaphor of desperate times and desperate measures the album was written to convey.
The other interesting aspect of this re-issue is the video DVD side. On it, you’ll find a couple of live performances which feature ‘80’s guitarist extraordinaire Adrian Belew and a fine line up of touring pick up musicians who fill some dangerously sparse parts of the compositions admirably. However, where this end falls apart is with the still photos offered with another play of the entire album. Maybe some ‘Heads fans would enjoy these, but for me, it was kind of weird to have static images going along with the meaty and bouncy music of the group, especially on the highly danceable songs “I Zimbra” and “Life During Wartime.” Maybe they just had space to fill on the disc, I don’t know. But it seems like an odd idea to me.
Rhino has released the entire ‘Heads catalogue, and if any of you are interested in discovering why the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phish and Radiohead site this band as an influence, I highly recommend you check out this album. It is a lasting tribute to a musical era filled with experimentation and risk, things we don’t find much of anymore in pop music.