Nightman Listens To – Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues (Top 1000 Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Lets keep this run of first time listens going. I say first time listens, but I have a feeling I’ve heard this before, or most of it. Or at the very least it has been on in the background or people have tried to make me enjoy it and failed. It could be this album or it could be another by Talking Heads. In many ways I should like Talking Heads, as they have inspired bands I do like and people say they have a similar sense of humour and lyrical style as I have/had. The songs I’ve heard have never been more then meh for me, and most less than that. I don’t like the vocals and I don’t like the sub Shakin’ Stevens stage presence.

What Do I Know About Talking Heads: Led by David Byrne, I always thought they were English when I was younger, only later finding out they were American. They merged punk and pop and New Wave 80s stuff and always felt like an offshoot of New Order to me. I’ve never heard anything by them which sounded like punk, whatever people made me listen to was always dancey or quirky or poppy. I know most critics and serious music fans like them, so I’m in the minority. Or I just haven’t been converted yet – we’ll see.

What Do I Know About Speaking In Tongues: Nothing concrete. I know it reviewed well and I have heard the name. I may have heard some songs from it or the whole album in passing, but if I don’t remember it it didn’t make an impact. Looking at the track-list – no bells a-ringing, my first thought is ‘how dare you have only 9 songs – only metal bands can have 9 songs on an album’.

Burning Down The House: Hello? Right, there’s the music. I had an inkling this was going to be this. I’ve gone on record before saying that the Tom Jones version of this is one of my least favourite songs of all time. Musically I like this a little more, but vocally it’s horrendous. The music is all blippy blappy moonman stuff and that prevents the main melody from grating as much as the cover does. It doesn’t become repetitive, like the cover, as the music differs enough from one moment to the next but it’s still not something I’d need to hear again.

Making Flippy Floppy: Moonman fade in. Terrible beats and worse vocals. Now this one is repetitive. It sounds like a bad Prince song. At least the bass and instrumentation are sometimes interesting, but it sounds very dated. There’s a whole tonne of lyrics but from one I can pick up without studying, it sounds like random nonsense. Some sort of snaking solo in the middle, sounds nice but the drums ruin it. Nothing hear to make me want to listen again. I assume a lot of people will like to dance to this, and the lyrics give the appearance of intelligence so it’s okay for people who don’t like generic dance music to get into it. Could have a minute shaved off and not lose anything.

Girlfriend Is Better: Listen – the whole 80s synthesized drums thing has always been a problem for me. I’ve never liked it, and I still don’t. That funky staccato guitar is almost identical in every song so far. The vocals are never going to be for me. A lot of the other musical stuff going on is okay, but the songs themselves and the lead melodies don’t deserve the pieces that I do enjoy. In other words, the songs are crap but there are little pieces int he background which should have been cut and paste into a better song. Once again, if I was off my face and dancing this would be fine, but then someone’s vomit hitting the bowl is enough to make me dance when I’m off my face. Haven’t the time or patience to study the lyrics but they seem the most interesting part. In summary – bits I like, but not enough.

Slippery People: The drums are better in this so far. More blips and blaps. The the same guitar. Then the same vocals. I can’t really say ask to replace the vocals and guitar, and in most cases the drums, because then it would be a completely different band apart from the one everyone else seems to love. Backing vocals spice things up a bit, but unfortunate the whole thing is so monotone. That’s always one of the issues I had with a lot of punk – the lack of vocal melody – but at least it was backed up by sheer force or emotion. This has plenty of groovy backing musical parts which are nice – probably my favourite song so far but that’s hardly saying a lot. I guess I’m interested in what sort of person really loves this. Plenty of people in the comments on Youtube are proclaiming each song as the best ever (standard for any video), but I can’t see your standard punk person getting it. Post-punk yeah, but post-punk rarely works for me, people who like pop and dance stuff I would guess this is too strange for them. For me, it’s both not strange enough, lacks emotion, lacks melody, and it’s too repetitive.

I Get Wild/Wild Gravity: Here come the bad drum sounds. Same guitar, but with echo effects. Sounds like something from a Karate Kid knock-off. I’d appreciate this more if I could see it freaking more people out. I love weird for the sake of weird, but it only works for me when it’s either a complete failure or no-one cares. When it tries to hard to be offbeat and ends up sounding just like everything else, but with a slight twist, then it doesn’t work for me. I think that’s part of the issue with this band and me. It’s commercially weird. It’s not buck nuts. That and the repetition and ‘fake’ nature of the music kills it for me. And the melodies just pass over me like they’re not there.

Swamp: Actually, I’m thankful this is only nine songs. This intro reminds me of one of Rod Stewart’s 80s songs. You know, that one where he’s walking towards the camera with his sleeves up. That’s probably all of them, but anyway. Different vocals and different guitar this time. Still no melodies worth mentioning. It’s funny how all the Youtube comments on these songs are like a secret club It’s funny how those comments are more interesting than the songs. Hand clap drums are the spawn of Putin. The vocals remind me somewhat of Bowie – there’s a range but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. For me, I qualify again. You like them, good for you, but they’re not for me. I like my vocals to be ripped from the guts of Hell.

Moon Rocks: Reggae start? Hope not, because that shit rarely flies with me. Why is every song 5.45? Is that intentional? It’s certainly funky, but I don’t think the vocals fit. The music keeps being more interesting than the melodies. The jangled guitars are back. Nice bass going on. Some sort of moonman interlude. Messing in the studio. Making noise from nothing. This one is so overtly funky that it’s hard to not get down. Probably the best one so far, benefits from the occasional melodic turn. Is there enough for me to care?

Pull Up The Roots: More hand clap beats. Come on – how did know one hear this and immediately think it was a terrible idea? Here come the vocals, all over the place again. Better melody for chorus. More Youtube comments saying how ‘normal’ people won’t get it. That’s just what I’ve been saying. It’s not weird or unusual. If you’re enjoying it and blasting it from your car, it isn’t weird enough, it’s 100% normal. It’s not the vocal style of most bands, but that doesn’t mean normal people don’t get it as much as it means it’s not good. And many many vocalists from the era adopted this style – not sure if this was first but Bowie was at it long before this was released. The best thing I can say is that it is funky or you can dance to it. I rarely consider a song’s ability to make you want to dance as a compliment. A better compliment would be that something like this would never chart today, because everything is so bland – credit for not being bland, but I’d never consider it weird.

This Must Be The Place: It’s just… it sounds so weak. I know I’m a metal and rock fan and am used to songs existing solely to blow my head off, but that’s not all I listen to. I listen to plenty of gentle music in traditionally softer genres, but even those feel more vibrant and energetic than this – not weak. Maybe it’s the artificiality of it. I don’t know. It sounds like standard middle of the road pop to me. Maybe because it’s my first and only listen, but this song just blends in with the others and doesn’t stand out. I know it’s different and even has a different approach, but at this point in the album that central vibe is a plague. Criticism at its best, folks!

What Did I Learn: When people say punk I still immediately think of angry young people screaming over three minute guitar based songs, but there’s more to it. I’ve always known that, but I think this and a lot of other stuff got erroneously labelled punk too. It’s entirely something else, but if people have deemed it punk or post then fine. This was exactly the album and style and sound I anticipated it would be, and my feelings about the band haven’t changed. It’s a sound I don’t enjoy, though I can see why some people do. I don’t understand why it’s held in such high esteem even though I should be the target audience. To me it’s too weak, it’s not weird enough, it’s not as adventurous as it either thinks or as it once was, and the monotonous looping of it all keeps me at arm’s distance.

Do I Think It Should Be In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: My opinion is an easy no. To me it sounds like every other Talking Heads work I’ve ever heard and sounds a hell of a lot like many other 80s bands. That sound is so ingrained that it could be a one-hit wonder act or an established artist or Talking Heads – too similar. Of course I’m aware I’m missing most of the nuances which come with dedicated listens and familiarity, but these posts are all about first time, one time listens. I can’t say how influential this was over any other Talking Heads album but Wikipedia tells me this is their fifth so I can only assume their earlier stuff was more influential? There’s not enough I’ve enjoyed here to spur me on to investigate further, but if you’re a fan fill me in in the comments. As is increasingly the case with these albums, I feel like I should apologise for not liking it and if any fans are reading this they’re probably frothing at the beak at how fucking stupid I am for not getting it. You like it? Great. Not for me. Did I say that already? It’s better than most modern chart stuff, I’ll give it some credit.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 965/1000

Let us know in the comments what you think of Speaking In Tongues!

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