More Songs About Buildings And Food
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/08/2009
“Watch me work!” David Byrne declares in “The Good Thing.” He wasn’t kidding. The Talking Heads’ follow-up was released just a year after their debut. More Songs About Buildings And Food wasn’t a drastic departure from Talking Heads: 77, but it served as the first of three major albums that edged the band from dingy punk clubs to mainstream radio.
First off, the wit, edge and tension from the Talking Heads’ debut album is fully intact on More Songs About Buildings And Food. If anything, the targets are more personable than their debut. Decades before the “Red State/Blue State” debate rose, David Byrne penned “The Big Country.” In that song, the character looks out from a plane over flyover country and observes, “Then we come to the farmlands and underdeveloped areas / And I have learned how these things work together.” He later muses “I guess it’s healthy, I guess the air is clean / I guess those people have fun with their neighbors and friends.” After taking this in, the character shudders, “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me / I couldn’t live like that, no siree!” For those who think the song is an attack on “middle-American values,” the song “Artists Only” is just as scathing toward the progressive class: “I’m painting, I’m painting again…pretty soon now, I will be bitter / Pretty soon now, will be a quitter.”
Music-wise, the group continues their flirtation with funk, African rhythms and New Wave. However, they begin to take some significant steps that would eventually pull them out of the punk clubs and into mainstream America with the inclusion of producer Brian Eno. He brought a deeper sound to the band, emphasizing Tina Weymouth’s bass. The most notable example of Eno’s work, not surprisingly, can be heard on their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” which helped push this album into the Billboard charts and eventually gained them a gold record.Even though More Songs About Buildings And Food flirted with more mainstream song structures, the band’s freak flag still flies high on most of the album. “Warning Sign” and “Thank You For Sending Me an Angel” are two songs that could only have come from the Talking Heads. As the band grew more successful, Byrne said in interviews that he worried about compromising too much of their sound to reach a mass audience. While the band eventually became one of the biggest acts in the early ‘80s, it wasn’t because of their compromises. Rather, it was their ability to get American audiences to embrace genres that many would normally ignore thanks to some seriously great songwriting and musicianship.