Intelligence within the rock community is not a necessary ingredient for success; the world has seen too many completely vapid music personalities. Lady GaGa may be able to enthusiastically adapt the club scene of the ‘80s into a modern take, but is there any need for the listener to dig deeper and attempt to understand where she has come from? No.
The Talking Heads, on the other hand, represent a side of rock and roll that rarely breaks through to the masses. Here were incredibly talented musicians, led by a genius – albeit egomaniacal – frontman in David Byrne. The discography from the group is something to admire, both from a commercial and artistic perspective. Unwilling to compromise, the Heads lasted throughout the decade of Reagan on their own terms and ended in the same fashion.
The latter half of that sentence is where Naked enters in the picture. Given the breakup of the group in 1991, Naked became, and has remained, the last Talking Heads album to be released. Ignoring the usual accolades that are showered upon “swan song” records, this album holds up to repeated listening and contains material that easily stands alongside the best the group had to offer.
Whereas the previous Heads records saw the group attempting to hone their pop sensibilities, this release travels down a completely different path. In an attempt to shake up the status quo, the group enlisted the aid of a handful of international musicians. The ensuing infusion of world music sounds is thus no coincidence, and it allowed all the members of the group to stretch their legs out.
The recording of the album itself stemmed from the group composing dozens of instrumental sections, which were then streamlined to form full-length tracks; the melodies and lyrics were developed later by Byrne. Despite the seemingly segmented process, the proceedings are remarkably cohesive.
The varieties of genres that come into play only help to keep the listener invested. There’s a strong, industrial rock quality to “The Facts Of Life,” a track preceded with the swamp rock charm of “The Democratic Circus.” While not intentional on the band’s part, there are threads of influence from Paul Simon’s Graceland that once again highlight African sounds (“Totally Nude”). If one listens carefully, it is also not hard to construct a mental bridge between such songs and the modern day work of groups like Vampire Weekend.
Of course, Naked being a Talking Heads album, there is no shortage of incisive and satirical lyrics. Byrne’s pen at times savagely berates the notion of modern democracy (“The Democratic Circus”), promotes an environmentally conscious society (“Nothing But Flowers”), and the general depravity that some think permeates the human condition (“The Facts Of Life”).
The intelligent approach consistently delivered results for the Talking Heads, and even as tensions within the group grew to insurmountable levels, the material did not follow suit. Naked finds a band that was just as interested in creating new and unique sounds as the group that burst onto the scene a decade earlier.