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One Of The Seminal `New York Scene' Albums,
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This review is from: Talking Heads 77 (Audio CD)
It's quite odd (I would contend) to think now of this marvellous Talking Heads' debut album in the vein of 'New York punk' (or maybe NY new wave), the genre with which it was initially associated. Although I guess if you think about it, of the other three classic albums (allegedly) from this genre (and period) namely The Ramones debut, Patti Smith's Horses and Television's Marquee Moon, it's really only the former that fits (or probably defines) the 'punk' label. Without wanting in any way to belittle what is (for me) the most important musical movement (certainly of my life-time), the non-Ramones albums here actually reveal a particularly diverse set of influences, ranging from proto-punk, art rock, pop, psychedelia and jazz, all with a poetic tinge.
Looking specifically at 77, whilst (Dumbarton's finest) David Byrne & Co., probably do not (for me) in this album represent quite the level of musical invention of the Television or Patti Smith albums, their predominantly whimsical and idiosyncratic form of pop music is nevertheless quite unlike much of what preceded it (although the Jonathan Richman influence is clear - indeed the Heads inherited keyboardist Jerry Harrison from Richman's band), and is given a particularly unique character as a result of Byrne's distinct, quirky vocal style. Byrne's songs here often take a positive (frequently romantic) outlook on life, none more so than on opener, the vibrant Uh - Oh, Love Comes To Town, and maintain a similar mood on the heavenly Happy Day, the pulsating and effervescent Who Is It? and First Week/Last Week....Carefree.
A slightly greater degree of contemplation is evident on (one of my particular favourites) Tentative Decisions, a sharply ironic take on the battle of the sexes, and featuring its anthemic chorus, all to Chris Frantz's marching drum beat. Similarly, each of The Book I Read and Don't Worry About The Government display infectious melodies and rhythm and feature Byrne's positively-themed vocals at their most distinctive (falsetto and vibrato). On the other hand, No Compassion takes a starker, less optimistic view of the modern human condition, with its Woody Allen-like take on life ('Go talk to your analyst, isn't that what he's paid for?), and is structurally one of the more complex songs here with its two-speed pacing. For me, however, 77 saves the best until last, finishing with two other favourites in the throbbing beat of Psycho Killer and its novel insights into the mind of an (apparent) madman, whilst closer Pulled Up never lets up with its infectious rhythm and riffs, and its story of the potential impact of parental influence on youthful ambition.
An album which I hadn't listened to for ages, but which on recent playing (almost) surprised me with its levels of vibrancy and innovation.