[Review] Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)

Eno puts on his king’s lead thinking cap and helps the Heads make a nervous, quirky, minor masterpiece.

Kronomyth 2.0: A knight leads

The Heads’ second album marks the beginning of a very fruitful relationship with Brian Eno. Unlike Devo, who seems to have ignored most of Eno’s suggestions, Talking Heads allow Eno to help shape the final product, mostly in the form of incidental sounds that expand their sonic palette and take some of the helium out of their otherwise impossibly wound jack-in-the-box arrangements. There are bits of this record that sound like Blondie and Television, but mostly this is a development of their first album, with more angst and less innocence.

As a personal confession, More Songs About Buildings And Food was my least favorite of their first four albums for years. To my ears, it seemed like an inferior version of their first album from a songwriting perspective, as though hastily put together. Listening to this on headphones, however, turned me around on that. There is a tremendous amount of music and artistry on this record, and today I hear this as an important bridge between their first and third albums.

The album’s opening statement, Thank You For Sending Me An Angel, captures the nervousness and awkwardness of their debut but with Eno’s wonderfully weird glaze on top. It’s clearly a step forward from their first record, a point made plainer as the record progresses. I had the sense on Talking Heads: 77 that Byrne and the band were clowning around (“Don’t Worry About The Government,” “Psycho Killer*”), and that they began to themselves more seriously on More Songs. With Our Love is a fair indication of that newfound seriousness. The Good Thing returns to that lost playfulness, at least until the foreboding chorus (shades of “Mother Whale Eyeless”) arrives. Warning Sign is the first sign of the great things to come on Fear of Music and remains my favorite song on the album. The Girls Want To Be With The Girls dissects the difference between the sexes, a kind of analytical bookend to Joe Jackson’s emotional “It’s Different For Girls.” Found A Job provides a funked-up ending that I used to play over and over again as a teenager, an “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da” for dadaists.

The second side is a bit weaker, at least in the beginning, as the Heads seem to retool some leftover ideas. Artists Only is an allusion to the band’s artistic roots, I’m Not In Love tunes into Television’s punk energy, Stay Hungry is a love song, I think. The album closes with its two “hits,” the obligatory remake of an old classic (Take Me To The River) and the relatively normal The Big Country. Whoever decided to add a sonar ping to “Take Me To The River” is a genius, while ending the album with Byrne’s reversion to infancy is perfect, as though the modern world reduces us all to morons.

The first four Talking Heads albums (five if you count My Life In The Bush of Ghosts) form an impressive musical monument. Remove one, and the whole thing topples over. You may want to start with Fear of Music, then move onto Remain In Light, More Songs and their debut in that order. What came after was often very good, but the band didn’t follow their own advice; they should have stayed hungry.

*I originally typed “Psycho Chicken” instead, which I’m sure is a sign of early dementia.

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Original elpee version

A1. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel (2:11)
A2. With Our Love (3:30)
A3. The Good Thing (3:03)
A4. Warning Sign (3:55)
A5. The Girls Want To Be With The Girls (2:37)
A6. Found A Job (5:00)
B1. Artists Only (David Byrne/Wayne Zieve) (3:34)
B2. I’m Not In Love (4:33)
B3. Stay Hungry (David Byrne/Chris Frantz) (2:39)
B4. Take Me To The River (Al Green/Mabon Hodges) (5:00)
B5. The Big Country (5:30)

Original 8-track version
A1. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
A2. Artists Only
A3. I’m No In Love
B1. With Our Love
B2. The Good Thing
B3. Warning Sign
C1. The Girls Want To Be With The Girls
C2. Found A Job
C3. Stay Hungry
D1. Take Me To The River
D2. The Big Country

CD/DVD reissue bonus tracks
12. Stay Hungry (1977 version)
13. I’m Not In Love (alternate version)
14. The Big Country (alternate version)
15. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel (“Country Angel” version)

The Players

David Byrne (singing, guitars and synthesized percussion), Chris Frantz (drums and percussion), Jerry Harrison (piano, organs, synthesizer, guitar and background singing), Tina Weymouth (bass guitar) with Brian Eno (synthesizers, piano, guitar, percussion and background singing), Tina and the Typing Pool (background singing on A3). Produced by Brian Eno and Talking Heads; engineered by Rhett Davies, mixed by Ed Stasium and Brian Eno.

The Pictures

Cover concept by David Byrne. Photomosaic reproduction by Jimmy deSana.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on July 7, 1978 in the US (Sire, SRK/M5 6058/8147-6058 H), the UK and Germany (Sire, K/K4 56531), Australia (Sire, SRK/M5K 6058), Canada (Sire, QSR 6058 and 9147-6058), Germany (Sire, SIR 56 532), Japan (Sire, RJ-7517) and Portugal (SRK 6058NP) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #29 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record) and #21 on the UK charts. Some versions of the album cover include the album’s title at the top.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Sire, P-6486).
  2. Re-packaged with Talking Heads: 77 on 2-for-1 cassette in 1982 (Sire, 23712-4).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in the US and Canada (Sire, 6058-2). [W2 6058 releases appear to be CRC issues.]
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in Germany (Sire, 27425) and Japan (Sire, WPCP-3621).
  5. Re-released on expanded CD+DVD in 2006 in the US (Sire/Rhino, 73298) with bonus tracks, Surround Sound version and video footage.
  6. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl elpee in 2013 in the UK (Rhino, R1-6058).

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