Talk Show

The Go-Go's

I.R.S., 1984

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


With the original Star Trek movies, the consensus was that II and IV were better than I and III. The Go-Go’s flipped that script; their first and third albums definitely feel like the cream of their four-studio-album crop. But the question of whether 1984’s Talk Show is actually better than their 1981 debut Beauty And The Beat is a tougher call than you might imagine.

The Go-Go’s—Belinda Carlisle (vocals), Charlotte Caffey (guitars & keys), Jane Wiedlin (guitars), Kathy Valentine (bass) and Gina Schock (drums)—are so firmly ensconced in rock legend by now that it seems foolhardy even to try to recap their career in a paragraph. Over the course of the last four decades they have been barrier-smashers (one of the first nationally-known all-female bands to compose all the songs and play all the instruments on their albums), pop stars (Beauty And The Beat topped the U.S. charts for six weeks in 1982 and eventually went double platinum), casualties of the scene (their career was sidetracked by drugs and dissension more than once), comeback kids (there have been several, including the one that produced 2001’s God Bless The Go-Go’s, their only full studio album since Talk Show), and icons (subjects of a recent documentary and members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 2021 class).

Though perhaps the least heralded of the Go-Go’s albums in the moment it arrived, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Talk Show is remarkably strong, opening with a pair of superb singles. The ringing, propulsive, irresistible “Head Over Heels” (#11) is one of those rare tunes that makes you want to air-piano along, a livewire anthem that’s catchy as the common cold. “Turn To You” (#32) follows in a heavier but no less melodic vein, lit up by an especially tasty guitar solo from Caffey.

Based on sales and airplay you might think this album drops off after those two: nope. “You Thought” and “Beneath The Blue Sky” are both solid melodic rockers, full of bounce and flair, with especially punchy bass work from Valentine on the latter. The thing is, everybody shines in this band; the four instrumentalists are all strong and all contribute to the songwriting, and Carlisle is a dynamite lead singer.

“Forget That Day” opens airy and dramatic before blossoming into a swinging, melancholy number. “I’m The Only One” follows up with a frothy, eminently danceable rocker featuring a terrific drums-and-harmonies breakdown. The album’s third single “Yes Or No” might have topped out at #84, but it’s one of their better mid-tempo tunes, simultaneously dreamy and hooky with a spot-on vocal arrangement.

The final trio begins with “Capture The Light,” for better or worse the most ’80s tune here in both tone and production, though the bridge offers some Joan Jett-style grit. Next up, “I’m With You” is as close as they come to a ballad, a beautifully arranged mid-tempo number with terrific harmonies and Schock rock-solid behind the kit. (With the Go-Gos I tend to favor the heavier rockers, but this is among their best deep tracks.) Closer “Mercenary” offers a change of pace with chiming acoustic guitars, a melancholy denouement to a powerhouse of an album.

There’s a natural vibrancy to these songs that so many bands try and fail to achieve that the Go-Go’s seem to accomplish just by being themselves. Every single song on this 10-track, 38-minute collection has punch and a hook that sinks in. You could get picky about how ’80s-crinkly and trebly some of the guitar tones are here, but what’re you gonna do? That’s just the way things were for most bands not named Van Halen in 1984; it’s a minor flaw in an album with only minor ones.

Still, we haven’t answered the question posed back at the beginning. Let’s stipulate this: Beauty And The Beat was and always will be a groundbreaking album. The less heralded Talk Show could never hope to match that sort of iconic status, and will therefore forever rank behind the band’s debut. But if you remove that element from the equation and just weigh the quality of the songs and performances in isolation, it’s a photo finish. Impressive work for a band that was about to blow up like a black-market firework. 

Rating: A-

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