True Stories

Talking Heads

EMI, 1986

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/20/2009

Trained musicians will appreciate and revere True Stories above all other Talking Heads albums. The band is clearly on top of their game on this 1986 effort, and from the sound of things, they are having a helluva good time with this material, too. From the propulsive, punched-up opener “Love For Sale” to the otherworldly chant of “Papa Legba,” this record has all the elements of what makes Talking Heads such an exciting musical force.

We are treated to front man David Byrne doing his infamous running man routine one more time on “Puzzlin’ Evidence,” a track that must have been a great standout when performed live. There’s also the terrific rockabilly single “Wild Wild Life,” which has the distinction of being the Heads’ final appearance in the Top 40. I must confess that I still haven’t seen the film my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 True Stories that this music was set to, but I can just imagine how freaky it is.

What I could have lived without this time around are the tunes that feature an accordion, especially “Hey Now” and “Radio Head,” which sounds like two half-baked drinking songs gone mad. Thankfully, such excesses are sporadic, interspersed with some surprisingly effective ballads. A prime example of a slow song done right is “Dream Operator,” with its glowing waltz melody that is on par with their previous high water mark set by “Heaven” seven years earlier on Fear Of Music.

Talking Heads continue to flirt with world music and country music on True Stories. After the tribal rhythms explored on “Papa Legba,” we return to the American South for “People Like Us.” Personally, I don’t think such diversions worked all that well, since they risked alienating their core audience that preferred the experimental nature of their earlier releases. This is supposed to be a punk act, though that spirit was completely watered down to pop on their last three albums. In proving themselves as competent musicians with a broad musical palette, Talking Heads lost their focus and their artistic edge. It was a tradeoff that would prove to be their undoing, since they’d only release one more album (Naked) before disbanding.

There’d be an opportunity to record again for their Sand In The Vaseline hits package, though that would be a short-lived and contentious reunion resulting in only two new songs. David Byrne couldn’t get the other members of TH to agree on the world music direction that he wanted to take the band in, so he opted out for a solo career. The side project Tom Tom Club was revived, but (much like Byrne’s solo projects) proved to be unsuccessful. Listen to “City Of Dreams” on True Stories and you will hear the perfect swan song for the Talking Heads, as sad and unfortunate as it may have been.

Rating: C+

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© 2009 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI, and is used for informational purposes only.