From The Vault: Talking Heads- "More Songs About Buildings And Food"
On it's 45th birthday, we take a quick look at the band's sophomore release
On it’s 45th birthday, we’re taking a quick look at “More Songs About Buildings And Food” by Talking heads
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My timeline with Talking Heads records is like a Tarantino movie; I came in at (more or less) the midway mark, then ate up everything after that before eventually returning to the beginning.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Stop Making Sense. That’s easy to do when a record rearranges your mind. Everyone deserves to have one of these records in their life. What’s harder to do is find the next record to top it.
I do not remember specifically where or when I got my first copy of More Songs About Buildings and Food. I can tell you I got my latest copy at an antique store near me that was going out of business. The building will be demolished to make way for a new mixed-use apartment/retail complex. There are plans on the books for a bank and cafe in the lobby- you know, buildings and food.
It was the last of the "first 4." I got these out of order, too, picking up Remain In Light first, then Fear of Music, and '77. All of these were on tape except Remain, which was on vinyl and looked great propping up a speaker for years. That would all change soon enough. None of these were on CD.
Stop Making Sense is, of course, a live record. Likewise, many of the tracks on More Songs About Buildings And Food were staples of the band's live sets, and none are about either buildings or food. This is very much a studio record.
It was the first of three records they made with Brian Eno (4 if you want to count My Life in the Bush of Ghosts), and with each release, the grooves got progressively deeper, and the sound became less Television/CBGB-y and more World-beat-y. There are more complex arrangements. Things get more expansive and less wiry. This is an early rendering of what Eno would eventually help sculpt into the band’s archetypal sound. To my ear, that peaks with Reman In Light, but here, the band still has one foot in each camp.
Speaking about "Pulled Up" (from '77) last year, I had this to say;
Part of their appeal is that they were constantly evolving and fearless in taking on any genre. Their sound grew more dynamic over time, but at this point, the band was economical with their instruments; no one was adding more than they needed to. The result was energetic tracks like this.
All of that changed with Eno on the boards. The ghosts of Tom Verlaine are still here (especially on tracks like "The Good Thing"), but they are getting increasingly smaller in the mirror.
More Songs isn't a "vibes" record, but you can't help but feel they were taking things more seriously at this point. If '77 felt like a class before the bell rang, this record feels like everyone is seated in class and ready to go, even if they're still snickering about something they heard in the hall.
A riff/rhythm here, a click there; Eno has a knack for making intricate records without them sounding busy. It is eclectic but in manageable doses. The pairing of “I'm Not In Love” and “Stay Hungry” display this more than anywhere else on the record.
There are also spots on the record where you can hear Byrne crossing the line between "frontman” and an overbearing force. It's no secret the band won't be getting back together anytime soon, and a large part of that is the ill will between him and the rest of the band. Byrne could be overpowering enough that it was easy to forget they were a 4-piece band. You can tell the band feels like they need to protect their turf in several spots.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on the band's cover of Al Green's “Take Me to the River.” Eno had to convince the band to do this, but the result is a rare example of a cover that supersedes the original. This track is built on— and runs on— Tina Weymouth's pulsing bass line.
I'm sure they were on good terms in 1978-at least, I hope so, anyway- but when Byrne sings "Big Country" (their version of a dis track), I have to wonder; did he forget Jerry Harrison is from Wisconsin?
I wouldn't live there if you paid me
I wouldn't live like that, no siree
I wouldn't do things the way those people do
I wouldn't live there if you paid me to
Shame as these last two songs show the best sides of the band; from "Take Me to the River's" deep slinky groove to the beautiful simplicity of "Big Country" (lyrics aside), the album sounds both of its time and timeless.
In time, the arc flipped, with my listening habits ending at Stop Making Sense instead of starting there. I spend more time with these first 4 (and Stop) than with most of the rest. And of these, this one gets the most spins.
Bottom Line: Following up a strong debut record with an even better second offering is often a struggle for bands. Nobody seems to have told Talking Heads about this rule. In a few years there would be drama, but More Songs About Buildings And Food is a record full of electricity and excitement.
For your playlist: The Good Thing, Stay Hungry, The Big Country
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Talking Heads | More Songs About Buildings And Food, 1978
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As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this record. Where does it rank among their records for you? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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