By Andy Battaglia
Is any other band name-checked as feverishly as Talking Heads? With Gang Of Four faded as a benchmark, citing new-wave's squirmiest stars has become shorthand for young groups fumbling through funk, yelping in tune, and devoting entire thought-systems to the kind of bland nouns that could just as easily signify nothing. It's worth pointing out that none of the new crop (Franz Ferdinand, The Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, et. al.) regularly reach the heights of Talking Heads' best albums, but then, neither did Talking Heads.
How could they? Thanks to badly needed remastering, the eight-disc Brick box—including all the studio albums, plus a handful of bonus tracks, video footage, and surround-sound mixes—shines rich expository light on arguably the greatest four-record run in rock history. Starting with 77 and continuing through More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear Of Music, and Remain In Light, Talking Heads exploded with ideas that could snap with a tiny turn of phrase or a big rethink of what could be done with rhythm and sound. It was less a run than a series of lurches, each album falling upward with all the controlled chaos of a Buster Keaton bit. In its new remastered form, 77 sounds like a wholly different album: The guitars ring with mystery and muscle that at least suggest their grounding in punk, and songs spin out newly crisp marimba and piano figures that would gain higher status in time. Buildings And Food sounds even better. The dense grooves of producer Brian Eno cover more ground with improved depth of field; jammy excursions laced into Tourettic songs like "Found A Job" and "Stay Hungry" still stand as some of Eno's best work. Eno famously stayed on through the murkier, moodier Fear Of Music and Remain In Light, which imagines some anxious idea of African funk for the coming age of Max Headroom.
It's not like Talking Heads fell off from there. Speaking In Tongues cleared the air, relatively speaking, with pop songs that were just as dense but more sleekly designed, and the ever-inviting Little Creatures marked what guitarist Jerry Harrison calls in the liner notes "a return to more traditional songwriting and particularly American song structures." ("And She Was" indeed.) True Stories is a collection of spotty, sometimes impossibly goofy songs from the David Byrne-directed film of the same name, and Naked finds the band returning to the distinctive, overly starched, world-beat shimmy of old.
The set itself is simple and straightforward: Filed in a white plastic box with raised lettering (which looks a little gross in an unexplainable way), each jewel-cased CD comes with between one and five bonus tracks. Some are demos, but others—particularly on the earlier albums—are unreleased gems that show the band working through notions they didn't necessarily touch on in the albums proper. The flip of the dual-disc format contains the surround-sound mixes (nice, perhaps, for those with the proper home-theater setup) and two or three video addenda. Again, the early albums benefit most from the visual bounty: Strong live footage shows Talking Heads playing loose in concert (Byrne looks oddly tough with a chipped front tooth on 77) and telegenically on the set of a German TV show (behold Tina Weymouth's weird fashion). The same discs are set to come out in individual digipaks early next year, but together, they make up a brick worth breaking the bank for.