Picks and Pans Review: Stop Making Sense

updated 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Talking Heads

If they're recorded well, and this one ranks with the best, live albums can indicate whether a band has legs. Does the group wither outside the controlled atmosphere of the studio? Is the material rich enough to support new arrangements or remain fresh in the original versions? In this sound track from its new performance movie, Talking Heads passes both tests. The musicianship of its expanded nine-piece lineup is relaxed and precise; the band is a rhythmic juggernaut, and flexible as well. A bright new arrangement using only percussion and acoustic guitar reconfirms the durability of Psycho Killer. The original version was darkly menacing; now it's as if the psychotic narrator has popped some uppers and is making his paranoid confessions while doing a giddy jig. The same mood carries over to the rest of the album, giving Life During Wartime a new, paradoxical quality. On the original, when the band sang, "This ain't no party/ This ain't no disco/ This ain't no foolin' around," you laughed, but shuddered too. Now, as the tune races along, the line becomes a joke shared with the audience, like someone saying no while nodding his head yes. The swooning guitar embellishments on What a Day That Was, from David Byrne's score for Twyla Tharp's The Catherine Wheel, give that song a euphoric completeness. More than anything else, what is experienced anew in this second live album by the group is the lyrics. They leap out, completely intelligible. The group's style is conversational, unstudied and unique. Juxtaposing narrative fragments, the Heads produce an effect that is tantalizing, funny, baffling and evocative. "We are vain and we are blind," Byrne sings in Psycho Killer. "I hate people when they're not polite." The song leaves the clear feeling that it's the polite people you have to watch out for. (Sire)

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