Talking Heads - Naked DUALDISCTalking Heads - Brick

Talking Heads


First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2006, Volume 13, #4

Written by John Metzger


Like many outfits, the Talking Heads struggled to find direction during the ’80s. The pop-oriented explorations of Little Creatures were regarded as insignificant by many of the group’s fans, and front man David Byrne’s first foray into film caused its subsequent (and, indisputably, its weakest) endeavor True Stories to feel self-indulgent and self-conscious. Considering the lofty heights to which it already had ascended via its well-respected early outings — most notably, Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues, and More Songs about Buildings and Food — the Talking Heads fall was a big one, and therefore, it isn’t surprising that its final endeavor Naked, which was issued in 1988, is frequently overlooked. In hindsight, however, its brilliance becomes readily apparent.

Rather than allowing a pre-conceived set of melodies and lyrics to drive (and potentially impede) the organic flow of its creative process, the Talking Heads — prior to departing for Paris, where the bulk of Naked was recorded with co-producer Steve Lillywhite — constructed an arsenal of rhythmic tracks that were designed to inspire its muse. Once overseas, the ensemble immersed itself within the multi-cultural, Parisian atmosphere, and it capitalized upon its surroundings by employing a slew of collaborators that included steel guitar and dobro player Eric Weisberg, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, and a full horn section. Merging an Afro-Cuban pulse with bits of funk, soul, and pop, the Talking Heads returned to the groove-oriented style of Remain in Light, though the end result was anything but a retread. In fact, Naked truly was the culmination of its career-long journey.

Lyrically, Naked reestablished Byrne’s paranoid delirium, and he filled the album with songs that dwelled within a world that was poised to plunge into political, environmental, and social chaos. Divided into two distinct acts, the album’s opening side was laced with cheerfully perky melodies that, much like Western society’s capitalist-minded consumers, seemed to dance and sway joyfully despite a darkness that was gathering at its outskirts. Blind’s James Brown-inspired funk was laced with images of violence; Mr. Jones borrowed Bob Dylan’s metaphor for the mainstream, fattened him up, and set him loose to strut with his pre-packaged, get-rich schemes; and Totally Nude, with its shimmering trails of guitar, as well as the ebullient (Nothing But) Flowers pitted civilization against nature and determined that mankind had become too accustomed to its materialistic ways to return to simpler times.

On the other hand, Naked’s latter half — with its moody, complex, challenging, and, at times, downright sinister-sounding arrangements — was steeped in the anxious ambience of Fear of Music’s closing track Drugs. "I’m afraid that God has no master plan," Byrne coldly stated on The Facts of Life as a sonar’s echo bounced off the song’s mechanical heartbeat. Elsewhere, a molten, off-kilter undercurrent provided a haunting and ominous air to The Democratic Circus’ dreamy lullaby, and although Cool Water offered a cautionary plea for global unity, it ultimately was resigned to the notion that civilized culture already had succumbed to the hypnotic cadence of life and, therefore, was destined to drown within the coming deluge.

Recently reissued as a DUALDISC package, Naked includes both audio and video tracks for the outtake Sax and Violins — which was unearthed in 1991 for Wim Wenders’ film Until the End of the World — as well as the strange and disturbing promotional spot for Blind. Most importantly, however, the album benefits from the subtlety of its 5.1 surround sound mix. For the most part, the action is presented in front of the listener, and the extra channels are utilized primarily to broaden and heighten the sonic spectrum. Only on occasion — Blind’s vocal echo or the rhythmic horror of The Facts of Life, for example — does the effort turn into a true immersion experience, but the end result is for the better in that the enhancements more thoroughly illustrate the emotions that course through the collection’s veins. starstarstarstar ½

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2006 The Music Box