1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 51

Speaking in Tongues, by Talking Heads
Suggested by Nick Hall

Talking Heads should be a band I’d like.

I enjoy some of their hits. Psycho Killer is great, as is Road to Nowhere. They are also a seminal influence on one of my favourite all-time bands, the mighty Primus.

Despite this, there’s just something about them I can’t properly stomach. It’s a sense of a clinical approach, something that almost feels as if they are mocking their listeners.

Maybe Speaking in Tongues will change my mind.

It starts off well. Speaking in Tongues is isn’t just funky. It’s fun-kay, with a capital Funk. The basslines are so bouncy and twanging, it’s as if they’re being played by Toe Jam and Earl. I don’t know if this is something that extends beyond the boundary walls of this album, but it’s certainly an eye-opener for me, and not unpleasant.

The first track, Breaking Down the House, is probably my favourite, although I do prefer the Tom Jones / Cardigans cover version from the late Nineties. In fact, the original sounds a little empty to me, as if certain instruments or backing tracks have been purged in the final edit. And of course, David Byrne can’t touch Tom Jones for vocal ability.

While I’m on the subject of vocals, I’d say this was the album’s Achilles Heel. The music is interesting enough, especially given its artcore credentials, but the vocal seems unsure of itself, almost as if it believes itself to be unimportant. That may be an artistic decision, but it’s likely one made on the strength of the talent available. It’s a quirky tone for a quirky sound, so it’s in the right place, but there’s a difference between quirkiness by choice and quirkiness as a last resort.

And throughout, there’s the issue I alluded to above. It feels sterile at times, as if presented at a convention for accountants rather than for a pulsating crowd on the dancefloor. The songs have a sameness too, aside from the more earthy Swamp. While I do appreciate the fresh-for-1983 efforts, I think it’s been on the hob a little long and the flavour has been boiled out.

I’ll give Speaking in Tongues a mediumweight 5/10. Parts I liked. But mostly, I felt Speaking in Tongues was talking in gibberish.

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