Tag Archives: Talking Heads

Rocks In The Attic #610: Muse – ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ (2001)

RITA#610.jpgThis is it. This is the one. Out of all of the albums I got behind during my twenties, this is the one that resonated with me the most. It still strikes a nerve today, sixteen years later.

I seem to remember the very late ‘90s being a desolate wasteland in terms of guitar rock. The homemade ethic of Grunge had drifted into stadium-filling Alternative Rock, but the punk vibe was still very much there. It was almost a crime to be proficient at playing the guitar. That’s just not cool, man.

The turn of the century gave us the Strokes and the White Stripes, both bands making guitars cool again. But for all their posturing, both of these American imports still took a simplistic approach to guitar playing; Jack White from garage rock, blues and folk, and the Strokes’ Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. from the New York City New Wave of Television, Talking Heads and Blondie.

Something far more interesting was happening in England. I had heard tales of a Devon band featuring a hot-shot guitarist with dazzling effects pedals. By the time I finally heard their first record, Showbiz, in 1999, I was an instant fan but I wasn’t bowled over. Sunburn was an awesome song, but there was a fair bit of mediocre filler throughout the record.

Fast foward a year or so, and a friend passed me an advance promo single for Plug In Baby. I played it that night during my DJ set at 38 Bar, and instantly fell in love. I hadn’t heard such an off-kilter guitar riff since Randy Rhoads’ Crazy Train. This Bellamy kid definitely wasn’t hiding behind those pedals.

The next day, I drove (for no particular reason) over to Hadfield, the Royston Vasey of The League Of Gentleman. I played the song over and over in the car, and just couldn’t get over how good it was. It felt like it had been written for my tastes in mind.

Thankfully the rest of the album was much stronger than its predecessor. New Breed and Bliss were both riff-heavy, and there was even a heavy cover of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good introduced with a lovely bit of Wurlitzer piano. The record does get a little tired towards the end – a good 15 minutes could have been shaved off to make a truly awesome 35 minute record – but it was still a damn sight stronger than Showbiz.

I saw the band tour this record at 2001’s V Festival in Staffordshire. They headlined the second stage, and I managed to get up close to the front. After the set, I turned round to walk back to my tent and realised how many thousands of people had also been watching. This little band I had followed for a couple of years had grown beyond my expectations. I wouldn’t seem them again until 2010, touring album number five.

Hit: Plug In Baby

Hidden Gem: Hyper Music

Rocks In The Attic #530: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – ‘Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ (1976)

rita530It’s a shame that the songwriting of Tom Petty hasn’t earned him a personalised adjective like other famous rockers. You could throw a couple of chords together and somebody might say it sounds Dylanesque, or if your song has a melodic walking bassline it could be accused of sounding McCartneyesque. But unfortunately if you write a song that has all the hallmarks of a Heartbreakers song, nobody says that it sounds a bit Petty. Maybe this does happen and all the recording studio bust-ups are over a simple misunderstanding.

I recently had a week off work. I caught a horrible virus from my four-year old, and felt like death for a few days. During that week – and you need that amount of time to set aside – I watched Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour Tom Petty documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been ill, but it was a really great watch regardless.

It’s become de rigueur for an all-encapsulating documentary to be directed by a big-name director. As well as Bogdanovich’s Petty-thon, there’s Scorsese’s doco on George Harrison, and Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam film. Concert films attract big names too – Jonathan Demme’s work with Talking Heads and Neil Young, Scorsese’s Last Waltz with the Band, Wim Wenders foray into Cuban music, Taylor Hackford’s profile of Chuck Berry, Scorsese’s and Hal Ashby’s work with the Stones. The list is endless, and probably driven by the fact that most film directors are big fans of music to begin with.

I can’t make my mind up about Tom Petty. I love his earlier material, like this album and the unequalled  Damn The Torpedoes, but his later work in the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond stray a little too close to the middle of the road for my liking. Maybe I’m just being a little Petty in saying that.

Hit: American Girl

Hidden Gem: Breakdown

Rocks In The Attic #454: Talking Heads – ‘Talking Heads: 77’ (1977)

RITA#454Hands down my favourite Talking Heads record, this debut might not have Brian Eno’s production (he was installed from More Songs About Buildings And Food onwards), or the chart-storming later singles such as Once In A Lifetime or Road To Nowhere, but it has a certain charm that is impossible not to love.

You know something is immediately different with this record – with this band, in fact – when just a few lines into opening song Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town, they break into a steel drum solo. Steel drums? Hang on, isn’t this a new wave band, a product of New York’s punk movement? To provide some context, their first gig was opening for the Ramones at CBGBs. That bass line in Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town doesn’t suit a post-punk / new wave band either. It’s a little too close to disco.

If nothing else, this band defies convention. More Velvet Underground style art-rock than any of their CBGB peers (except maybe Television), Talking Heads would carve a niche between the underground and the mainstream throughout the 1980s. The direction that the band would take seemed to get more and more serious as the band progressed – perhaps as a product of that self-obsessed, greedy decade that the ‘80s became – however this record is easily their most fun offering.

Hit: Psycho Killer

Hidden Gem: Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town

Rocks In The Attic #419: Talking Heads – ‘More Songs About Buildings And Food’ (1978)

RITA#419This is the second Talking Heads record, released two weeks to the day I was born in 1978. I always spot in those lists that the number one record when I was born was You’re The One That I Want by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. I think I prefer this.

The one thing that amazes me about this album – except for the music of course – is the cover. It’s probably one of my favourite pieces of album artwork – a collage of 529 close-up polaroid photos, showing the four members of the band standing looking at the camera. I never see this regarded as being a classic album cover though. Maybe it’s a little too artsy for classic rock fans – but as far as pop art goes, this is a beautiful image.

This is the first Heads album to feature Brian Eno in the producer’s chair – a partnership that would eventually see them change the face of American music, turning new wave into alternative rock, paving the way for the likes of R.E.M. and subsequently Nirvana and beyond. In terms of a comparison to their first album, this one is tighter and, dare I say it, not as fun as that debut record. One of my favourite looser moments on Talking Heads: 77 is the steel drum break in opening song Uh-Oh, Love Comes To To Town. You still hear steel drums on More Songs…, but this time it’s in a much more controlled manner (towards the end of Found A Job).

That said, Bryne is still having a whale of a time, whooping and hollering on songs like Artists Only. Here you can hear him starting to loosen up, heading in the direction of his crazy vocal performance on Once In A Lifetime. Maybe that was Eno’s plan all along – get the band under control, but let Byrne go crazy over the top?

Hit: Take Me To The River

Hidden Gem: Thank You For Sending Me An Angel

Rocks In The Attic #346: Talking Heads – ‘Stop Making Sense’ (1987)

RITA#346The first time I was exposed to this album was seeing a clip of Jonathan Demme’s concert film in an Amsterdam bar. The place had a video jukebox, and somebody selected this. I’d never seen David Byrne jigging around in his oversize suit before. I might have been a little drunk / stoned at the time, so it probably made much more sense than it should have done.  I also remember the video we watched after this – Stevie Ray Vaughan playing a live version of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).

The weird thing about this Talking Heads album is that it’s a live album but it sounds like a studio album. You get a bit of obligatory cheering at the end of each song, but each song tends to start without any ambient noise whatsoever. There’s silence and then the band just starts playing. I’m presuming it’s simply presented how it was recorded, without any subsequent tinkering to make it sound more ‘live’ than it actually is. And it sounds all the better for it.

I’ve been to a lot of gigs and have hardly ever heard an almost endless wall of cheering between songs. Maybe I’m going to see the wrong bands! Yet live albums usually present that particular phenomenon as the norm. It’s almost as if every live album is trying to recreate George Martin’s problematic jet engine screaming between songs on The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl.

I once listened to a CD of Aerosmith’s Live! Bootleg on shuffle and you could hardly tell it was playing in a different running order. The reason? The wall of crowd noise between each song was essentially the same noise – same pitch, same volume, virtually identical.

Since then, I’ve always eyed live albums with suspicion. They’re usually pretty pointless anyway, aren’t they? Is there a live album out there that actually adds something integral to a band’s oeuvre?

Hit: Once In A Lifetime

Hidden Gem: Burning Down The House