Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

Albums To Hear Before You Die #011 – Talking Heads 77 – Talking Heads (1977)

albumtalkingheads77

As years go by the majority of the music that was the soundtrack of one’s past begins to date. It’s a sad fact, but a very large percentage of the sounds all of us enjoyed when we were teenagers was, well, just bad. Admitting that fact is tough. Many refuse to do so and will remain in denial until they are buried with their Osmonds albums clutched in their cold dead hands.
The bad music, it sinks into obscurity, but the good stuff, it gets replayed, talked about, rediscovered by later generations, and it usually still sounds fresh.
This is particularly true of what is arguably Talking Heads’ finest album, ‘Talking Heads ’77’
Although ostensibly riding in on the crest of the punk movement, Talking Heads were in stealth mode. Invoking the tropes of punk with their stripped back instrumentation and Byrne’s atonal vocals they transcended the movement and will always be something separate and somewhat unclassifiable.
The first track ‘Uh-Oh’ is deceptively poppy. Without Byrne’s voice and lyrics it would have been another lost pop anthem of the 70s.
Things get more serious after this however. ‘New Feeling’ is the track that sets the mood, with astringent guitar riffs backing the half spoken half howled pre-Morrisey angst.
‘Tentative Decisions’ again features a catchy riff which segues into an anthem of gender differences.
‘Happy Day’ begins deceptively with a soft keyboard intro but soon changes pace. The title is at odds with Byrne’s melancholy high notes and indeed the happy day is more of a wish than an expectation.
‘Who is it?’ is an unconventional and stripped back love song
My favourite track is ‘Don’t You Worry About The Government.’ It’s a complex piece with ambiguous lyrics. The refrain repeats the phrase ‘Don’t you worry about me’ which tends to suggest that this is the voice of the US government, singing cynically to its citizens as ‘friends’ and ‘loved ones’.
There are echoes of Byrne’s future development in the direction of Latino rhythms here and there – they creep into “First Week/Last Week…Carefree”, another track that seems to work on two different levels of tempo and melody – but somehow the album holds together stylistically.
The most famous track of course is ‘Psycho Killer’, Byrne’s ‘Mona Lisa’ in that the track has become so iconic and well-known that it’s difficult to look at objectively. It’s a tense, sparse and spikey number, full of angst and paranoia, but just so damned catchy. In a juxtaposition of tone, this leads into ‘Pulled Up’, the final track and like the first, an upbeat poppy number albeit woven around a narrative of emotional rescue.
It’s not just a wonderful album musically, it’s an intelligent album, wonderful lyrically, and years ahead of its time in many ways. Even now, I keep finding new facets to it and have to wonder will there ever come a time when they are exhausted.

Track listing

1. “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town” 2:48
2. “New Feeling” 3:09
3. “Tentative Decisions” 3:04
4. “Happy Day” 3:55
5. “Who Is It?” 1:41
6. “No Compassion” 4:47
7. “The Book I Read” 4:06
8. “Don’t Worry About the Government” 3:00
9. “First Week/Last Week…Carefree” 3:19
10. “Psycho Killer” 4:19
11. “Pulled Up”

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