Monday, February 25, 2008

No. 382: More Songs About Buildings and Food

Band: Talking Heads
Album: More Songs About Buildings and Food
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The band's second album featured help by Brian Eno and moved the band into a more mature territory. Out of the classic punk rock roots, the Heads became more of an art-rock circumstance and further defined their sound. It's an underrated gem.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There isn't a lot of accessibility on this album and "More Songs About Buildings and Food" almost defines quirkiness.
Best song: The hit single from the album -- and one of the band's signature songs -- is their cover of Al Green's "Take Me To The River." It is, in a word, genius.
Worst song: You know, there really isn't a bad song on the album.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

While Talking Heads' best work is usually cited for David Byrne's inventiveness or Brian Eno's production, but one of the main reasons "More Songs About Buildings and Food" is great is the band's rhythm section. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz were the members of the group who brought funk's backbeat to the band and introduced Byrne to the possibilities therein.

The album is littered with such rhythms. "Found a Job" has the quick dance beat of James Brown's earlier work, while "Take Me To The River" has the slow burn of the original. "The Girls Want to Be with the Girls" has the moving bassline of Bootsy while "With Our Love" is severely influenced by the Meters.

(Famously, "Burning Down the House" gets its name from an old P-Funk chant -- "burn the house down!" -- Frantz would shout during the band's jams.)

Byrne's songwriting takes on new features on the album. The lyrics reflect realities ("Warning Sign"), social commentary ("Found a Job") and conceptual pieces ("Artists Only"). The best-written song on the album is the album closer, "The Big Country," wherein Byrne looks at the flyover with a slide guitar and country beat. The song's lyrics ("I say, I wouldn't live there if you paid me./I couldn't live like that, no siree!") reflect Byrne's ability to write a sarcastic song with tinges of coastal truth. While simple-sounding, the song is layered and complex.

Of course, the juxtaposition of Byrne's real world reality (see the album's title) over the band's staccato funk is the band's signature and Brian Eno helped the band realize this on "More Songs About Buildings and Food." While the band would expand the sound, "More Songs About Buildings and Food" is the signature Heads album.


kellydwyer said...


In fact, I'm going to go put it on.

padraig said...

I guess I'm more of a gang of four dude. not that you can't have both. I actually prefer the rampant paranoia of "fear of music" to this one but they're both pretty great.

R.J. said...

Oh, yeah. There are better Talking Heads albums, sure. I was just happy to have an album to love again, as opposed to Springsteen, Beach Boys and Modern Lovers records.