Friday, September 18, 2009

Silent Talking Heads Find A New Voice

Following ‘Naked’ it was time for the band to put their clothes back on and once more explore life beyond Talking Heads. With the incessant chatter of the band having died down, Jerry Harrison set about writing and recording his second album, this time having found God as his new backing band, well, Casual Gods at any rate. Harrison no doubt had read the writing on the wall, in respect of Talking Heads’ immediate prospects, and approached the ‘Casual Gods’ (US#78/OZ#18) album with a degree of freedom. The album oozed with slick funk rhythms and infectious melodic hooks. Harrison handled production, vocals, guitar, and keyboards, but in addition to former touring Talking Heads, Adrian Belew, Nona Hendryx, and Bernie Worrell, guest guitarist Chris Spedding and Robbie McIntosh played a lick or two. Harrison stepped up to the plate on all counts, and the album’s lead out single ‘Rev It Up’ was a brilliant serving of funk laden pop-rock. For some inexplicable reason though, ‘Rev It Up’ only managed to redline on the Australian charts (#3). The menacingly moody ‘Man With A Gun’ also hit a target down under (#16), whilst remaining a largely undiscovered gem elsewhere. Two years later, Harrison resurfaced with the 1990 album ‘Walk On Water’, a less ornately mixed, straight up pop-rock offering. Harrison even threw in a couple of heartfelt ballads, but the stand out track, and single, was ‘Flying Under Radar’ (OZ#100). Sadly, the rapid fire, funk-guitar driven song flew so low it barely registered a blip. I’ll never understand just why brilliant tracks such as ‘Flying Under Radar’ remain so strangely surreptitious. Throughout the 90s and beyond, Jerry Harrison focussed most of his creative energies as a producer for other artists, and has helmed albums from Crash Test Dummies, Live, the Verve Pipe, Fine Young Cannibals (on ‘Raw & the Cooked’), and No Doubt.

The same year that Talking Heads released their swansong album, ‘Naked’, David Byrne devoted a good deal more time on outside projects. He wrote the score to the Jonathan Demme comedy ‘Married To The Mob’, and in partnership with Cong Su and the acclaimed Ryuichi Sakamoto, he composed the soundtrack to the Bernardo Bertolucci epic ‘The Last Emperor’ (and won an Academy Award in the process) - I’m assuming he finally found a tailor made suit to fit him for the award ceremony. The enigmatic artist had also formed his own recording label, Luaka Bop, as an avenue into the U.S. market, not only for his own work, but that of artists from Brazil, Cuba (not accessible since 1961), and Asia. Byrne’s commitment to musical diversity also extended to signing British avant-garde dance act A.R. Kane, and Los Angeles rock band Geggy Tah. In 1989, Byrne released his first solo album proper, with the Latin rhythm inspired ‘Rei Momo’ (US#71/UK#52/OZ#86), produced by Steve Lillywhite and featuring a stellar support cast of well respected Latin musicians. He followed that up with directorial duties on the documentary ‘The House Of Life’.

Byrne’s next two albums, 1992’s ‘Uh-Oh’ (UK#26/OZ#78), and 1994’s ‘David Byrne’ (UK#44), veered back to a more direct, rock-edged approach, but failed to capture the attention of former Talking Heads’ devotees. He closed out the 90s with the nothing more than ‘Feelings’ (1997), which attempted to squeeze even more radically diverse ingredients into the musical melange. 2001’s ‘Look Into The Eyeball’ featured a cast of thousands, and possessed a more consistent treatment of its still diverse musical styles (I especially like the playful ‘Like Humans Do’). Byrne has only released one further solo album since, 2004’s ‘Grown Backwards’, but in 2008 he reunited with former Talking Heads’ producer Brian Eno, on the album release ‘Everything That Happens Will Happen Today’. But though his solo recordings may have been few and far between over the last decade, David Byrne has been no less prolific in his creative output. He has continued to write and produce for film, television, other artists, written and directed for the stage and screen, staged exhibitions of his photography and visual performance art, toured and lectured, and continued to oversee operations in his record company.

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth resumed duties with Tom Tom Club during 1988, following a stint in the production booth for Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers (see previous post). Keyboardist Gary Pozner, and guitarist Mark Roule, were added to create a more stripped down, but stable line-up, both for in-studio, and tour duties. Once more the resultant album, ‘Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom’ (US#114), featured an eclectic mix of song styles, which included a cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Femme Fatale’. On board for that song were Lou Reed, David Byrne, and Jerry Harrison. The chemistry must have still been there, at least with Harrison, because in 1990 the Tom Tom Club toured the U.S., sharing a bill with Harrison’s band Casual Gods, Deborah Harry of Blondie, and the Ramones (that would have been quite a show). In 1992, Tom Tom Club returned to the studio to record their fourth album, ‘Dark Sneak Love Action’, which contained more than its share of sunshine and ecstasy, including a track by that title, and a buoyant take on Hot Chocolate’s ‘You Sexy Thing’ (see previous posts). Around the same time, Weymouth and Frantz produced the Happy Mondays’ album ‘Yes Please!’, and over time both continued production work for the likes of Angelfish (Shirley Manson’s pre-Garbage band), Mad Happy, and Supergrass.

For a few years, Frantz and Weymouth took a deliberate break from work with one another, but by 1996 they had agreed, with Jerry Harrison, to attempt a reformation of Talking Heads. There was just one problem, and a pretty major one at that, David Byrne wanted no part of it. The remaining trio decided to press ahead with a new album, under the name The Heads. Law suits were threatened, but eventually the project came to fruition via the album ‘No Talking Just Head’ - pun most definitely intended. With Byrne out of the picture, the trio invited a number of pop-rock luminaries to provide lyrics and guest vocals for the venture. Among those on board were Debbie Harry, Michael Hutchence, Richard Hell, Andy Partridge, Maria McKee, Ed Kowalczyk, and Shaun Rider (who guested on the single ‘Don’t Take My Kindness For Weakness - UK#60). For all the novelty of such a varied line-up of guest vocalists, the album lacked the depth of the Talking Heads proper. 2000 saw Tom Tom Club reopen its doors with the album ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Funky’. A diverse array of musical flavours resided within, though laced throughout with Tom Tom Club’s penchant for up-beat dance pop, and funky rhythms. Over the next couple of years, Frantz and Weymouth took Tom Tom Club on the road, and though in more recent times the ‘band’ has kept a low key profile, they still hit the stage from time to time, never failing to entertain fans, old and new alike.

In March of 2002, David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison, reunited on stage to commemorate the induction of Talking Heads into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - but the reunion proved to be a one off only.

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