Picks and Pans Review: Naked
Once before in their career, after Fear of Music in 1979 brought their early, New Wave period to a chilling climax, Talking Heads expanded its ranks, creating a cerebral Afro-funk fusion that fueled several albums and reached an apex with the 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. After the tight pop song structures of 1985's Little Creatures and the sound track to David Byrne's 1986 film True Stories, the basic quartet has again thrown open the gates, with equally revitalizing results. Recording in Paris, the Heads exploited the city's international talent pool, working closely with keyboardist Wally Badarou from Benin in West Africa and Cameroonian guitarist Yves N'Djock. Three of the album's 10 songs are spiced with piquant horn arrangements; others feature accordion, pedal steel guitar, congas, African string instruments and, courtesy of Malian percussionist Brice Wassy, leg seed pods (pants with sound-producing shells sewn to the legs) and an ashtray. The songs' fluency and drive are remarkable considering they were built bit by bit, beginning with rhythm improvisations that were refined at all-day rehearsals/jams in the Paris studio. Finally Byrne improvised melodies over the rhythm layers and, back in New York, devised lyrics to fit. The album is instantly recognizable as Talking Heads—from Byrne's prismatic lyrics and ever more accomplished singing to those supple melodies riding the rhythmic panoply—yet it's not quite like anything they've done before. Back on Fear of Music the Heads scored a dance club hit with Life During Wartime ("This ain't no party/ This ain't no disco/ This ain't no fooling around"). Parts of Naked pick up where that song left off. In Mommy Daddy You and I the perspective is that of children rousted out of bed by their parents, getting on a bus with other families, driving all night, wondering, "And we still ain't got no plan/ How we gonna make our way in this foreign land?" Life after wartime may be the theme of (Nothing but) Flowers. "This was a Pizza Hut/ Now it's covered with daisies," sings the man-child-narrator, who pleads, "Don't leave me stranded here/ I can't get used to this life-style." In Talking Heads' wonderfully satirical view, consumer culture reduces everything to a lifestyle, even the Apocalypse. (Sire)
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