Byrne always reminded me of John Cleese without the moustache.
"The name of this song is 'New Feeling' and that's what it's about"....
Thus begins the first C.D., chronicling the sparse quirky, clever sound that that Talking Heads promoted. The band was ultra straight, not visibly hung up, clever, middle class, and ever so slightly ironic. And then there was David Byrne, who was the madly normal one (or normally mad one, take your pick). His faux naïve take on modern life was surprising at the time (this was 1977); maybe Jonathan Richman came closest. But then, Byrne always reminded me of John Cleese without the moustache.
The first thing to say about this re-issue is how 'in yer face' the sound is compared to the record (and, yes, mine was bought scratched and second hand on Burnley market in 1985). The understated first dozen tracks have ceased being understated; in fact they pack so much punch I can't believe I missed it first time around. They are so much looser and much more confident than the versions on their debut album, "Talking Heads '77". "Pulled Up" rocks and "Psycho Killer", shorn of its clever-clever presentation on "Stop Making Sense" is punchy and mean. The extra tracks (of which there are twelve over the duration of the album) are on the whole better performances than the original selection. "Who Is It" and "I'm Not in Love" have me doing my stupid impromptu D. Byrne dance for the first time after twenty years.
The first C.D. follows the band's progress up to 1981's "Remain in Light", essentially three albums' worth of material. Changes in the Heads' sound can be evinced from stuff like "Mind", "Electricity" and "Artists Only", all live recordings from 1978 and 1979, all of which see the 'Heads trying to break away sonically from their earlier bracketing as batty, witty troubadours. It should come as no surprise that 1978 was the year when Brian Eno started to get involved with them as their producer.
Nothing, not even my "Eno-facts", can in any way prepare you for the RIOT on the second cd. Always the best of the records in the original set, the sound, now enhanced, is knock-out. Effectively, it's a live set culled from their most creative, "Remain in Light" period, with the legendary extended live band, (about 600 members all told, including Bernie Worrell; some of this band are still being found on remote Pacific atolls nearly 25 years after the tour). The extra tracks now include "Once in a Lifetime", "Born under Punches" and "Animals", which are all a bloody treat to hear.
It is at this point, amidst all the raving and thumping Afro-beats that I must start to rant. Whilst listening to "Cross Eyed & Painless" I was wondering who could do this now. You know, get a load of diverse musicians together, some like Worrell with bigger pedigree, create a set around them, then allow these musicians to take risks with their songs; allowing them to be utterly reinterpreted into something fantastic and strange. And the answer is no one. Its PATHETIC no one dares try. These live work outs are so funny, so astute, and so damn funky, it makes me ROAR in PAIN that the current shallow scene that is effectively built on memories of the post punk and new wave era could NEVER live up to or create something like this. Smug, self indulgent, two faced two dimensional. Come on, gee up eh?