From the late 70's CBGB's scene of punk bands like the Ramones and the Voidoids emerged a different kind of band. They barely sounded like a punk band, though; in fact, they weren't a punk band at all. New wave, art rock, punk-funk, whatever it was, it was great. The debut album from the now legendary Talking Heads is simple, unique, and their most easily accessible to fans of punk rock.
The album opens with "Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town," a 60's-style pop song with a funk bass line and fairly simple drumming. It's a solid song and it gives us our first taste of David Byrne's detached stream-of-consciousness lyrics and wondrfully odd vocals. He's twitchy and nervous, yet confident and powerful. The effortless leaps from baritone grumblings to straining falsetto tick and pop the listner along on an amazing ride. By the second track, the Talking Heads are well into their own territory: punchy tempo shifting, oblique rhythms, unusal guitar tunings, and lyrical and vocal madness. The song is called "New Feeling" and that's what it's about. Byrne's lyrical gems cotinue flying left and right: "I wish I could meet everyone / Meet them all over again / Bring them up to my room / Meet them all over again / Everyone's up in my room." Next comes "Tentative Decisions," chugging along with military drumming and clanging piano. "Happy Day" shifts back and forth from floating and shimmering to straightforward pounding, and the funky "Who Is It?" commands you to dance. "No Compassion" is the weakest track on the album and the only one that is less than great; it's still good though, just a bit too long. "They say compassion is a virtue, but I don't have the time."
To this point it's a really good album, but the blazing finish is makes it great. "The Book I Read" may be the best song on the album. The excitment builds up and down in multiple steps and everything just flows so smoothly. Byrne's vocals soar more noticably here than on any other track and the simple lyrics are also some of his most thought-provoking. "I'm writing 'bout the book I read / I have to sing about the book I read / I'm embarassed to admit it hit the soft spot in my heart / When I found out you wrote the book I read." Is he talking about the Bible? Is he being sarcastic? So many questions to ponder. The catchy "Don't Worry About The Government" comes next. The benefits of modern apartment buildings and importance of civil servants are explained clearly to the listener in a forthright manner. But don't take everything too literally. "First Week / Last Week...Carefree" is my favorite song on the album and that's mainly due to the brilliance of the vocals, especially the improvised scats and sound effects between verses. The single "Psycho Killer" pulses with fierceness and is one of the Talking Heads' most widely appealing songs. "Pulled Up" wraps up the album on one of its highest notes. It's a breathtaking burst of ferocious energy and the spirit of the screaming finish beats nearly every current punk singer.
If you haven't heard them, this should be your first stop. Talking Heads: 77's greatest triumph is its sublte kinetic energy. Each song slowly builds up to a climax or crescendo, drops back down, and returns numerous times. This style, added to the genius of David Byrne, keeps the album from being anything close to boring. This is a stunning debut from one of the greatest bands ever and a perfect introduction for all of you punks who don't like them (yet).
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