[Review] Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues (1983)

The band regroups without Eno and makes a record you can actually dance to some of the time.

Kronomyth 6.0: Four heads are better than eno.

In the last couple of years, a lot had happened for Talking Heads: Eno was out, Tom Tom Club was a hit and David Byrne had found a gal (future wife, Adelle Lutz). As a result, the band’s next album, Speaking in Tongues, was less experimental, funkier and more optimistic than their last album, Remain in Light. It was also less interesting (imho) while exposing the band to a wider audience through clever videos and songs that everyone (and not just Popin’ Pete) could dance to.

The funky sensibilities of Speaking in Tongues had, of course, always been there. It’s not hard to imagine Eno getting his revisionist mitts on Wild Gravity/I Get Wild or Making Flippy Floppy and turning them inside-out and upside-down. Without that third wheel, Talking Heads sound mostly like a tandem of Tom Tom Club and David Byrne’s catchier bits from The Catherine Wheel (“Big Blue Plymouth,” “My Big Hands”). I’m sure Jerry Harrison had an active hand in things too, as the end result doesn’t sound markedly different than The Red and The Black.

The band’s sixth album is bookended by two great tracks, Burning Down the House and This Must Be the place (Naïve Melody). In between are some good songs (Girlfriend Is Better, Swamp) and a few songs that honestly aren’t all that memorable (e.g., Pull Up the Roots, Slippery People). Unfortunately, this would be the template the band would follow in the future, marking their shift from an album band to more of a singles band that made great music videos. This I tend to see Speaking in Tongues as the beginning of the band’s second, more commercial phase. The band still had a lot to say, but not everything they said from this point on (e.g., True Stories) commanded your full attention the way that earlier albums had.

Original elpee version

A1. Burning Down the House (4:00)
A2. Making Flippy Floppy (4:36) (5:53*)
A3. Girlfriend Is Better (4:25) (5:45*)
A4. Slippery People (3:30) (5:03*)
A5. I Get Wild/Wild Gravity (4:06) (5:14*)
B1. Swamp (5:09)
B2. Moon Rocks (5:04) (5:42*)
B3. Pull Up the Roots (5:08)
B4. This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) (4:56)

Lyrics by David Byrne. Music by David Byrne/Chris Frantz/Jerry Harrison/Tina Weymouth.
*Cassette features extended versions of five songs.

The Players

David Byrne (vocals, keyboards, guitars, bass, percussion), Chris Frantz (drums, backing vocals, synthesizer), Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Tina Weymouth (synthesizer and string bass, backing vocals, guitar) with Wally Badarou (synthesizer), Raphael Dejesus (percussion), Nona Hendryx (backing vocals on A4), Richard Landry (saxophone on A4), Dolette MacDonald (backing vocals on A4), Steve Scales (percussion), Shankar (violin on A2), David Van Tieghem (percussion), Alex Weir (guitar), Bernie Worrell (synthesizer on A3). Produced by Talking Heads; engineered by Butch Jones; overdub engineering and mixing by Alex Sadkin.

The Pictures

Cover by David Byrne.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, clear vinyl elpee, extended cassette and compact disc on June 1, 1983 in the US (Sire, 23883-1/4/2), the UK (Sire, 92 3771) and Canada and Germany (Sire, 923883) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #15 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record) and #21 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-released on 180g blue vinyl elpee in 2022 in Argentina (Sire, 8122-79666-5) with booklet.

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