Talking Heads

Talking Heads [DualDisc]

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Talking Heads fans have been waiting a long time to have the band's eight studio albums remastered and reissued, but they may find that the long-awaited revamping of the group's catalog is somewhat problematic. Instead of being released as individual titles, all eight titles were boxed and reissued as an expensive set, Talking Heads Brick (this box retails for $149.99; individual releases are tentatively scheduled to follow, three to four months after this set's October 2005 release) -- and they're not issued as CDs, they're only available as DualDiscs, a format that contains a CD on one side and a DVD on the other. Each album is presented in expanded form with a handful of bonus tracks on the CD side, with the DVD side containing the entire album, but usually not the new bonus tracks available on the CD side, in 5.1 Surround mixes and PCM stereo, plus some additional video bonus material. DualDiscs do offer more than a conventional CD, but they're thicker than CDs, which may mean that they may not play on all CD players, and almost surely won't play on any computer or car stereo -- all things that will frustrate fans, but that's hardly not the only thing that will frustrate them about this brick-like set. There's the fact that while most of the group's videos are here, some, like "Once in a Lifetime," are conspicuously missing. Then, there's the packaging, which may be considerably more user-friendly than the ungainly 2003 box Once in a Lifetime, but it's designed as an all-white art object. The raised-type text of the group's song titles is pretty cool on the outside of this moulded plastic box, but each individual CD is given a white tray inlay that contains no text at all -- no text on the spine indicating what album it is, no song titles on the back, which means that anybody wanting to know what the bonus tracks are on an individual discs will have to open up the booklets, which is exceptionally infuriating. Those booklets also contain an insert miniture art lithograph -- replications of pictures and photos interpreting what certain Talking Heads songs mean -- plus testimonials and some artwork recycled from the 2003 box, along with full lyrics, including some shots of the original lyrics. It's nice, but more complete liner notes would have been appreciated.

Apart from these packaging and format problems, the set does deliver on many fan's highest hopes for the set. The sound is indeed a marked improvement over the shoddy compact discs that have been on the market for roughly 20 years; it's not an improvement on the 2003 box, but an extension, and it's a pleasure to hear all these albums in such clear, rich sound. Similarly, the 5.1 mixes are good and use the sound stage well, even if they're not particularly revelatory.

Of course, the bonus tracks are of the most interest to the hardcore fans who have been waiting for this overhaul of the group's catalog, and, by and large, this new material is very good. Talking Heads: 77 has the singles "Love=Building on Fire" and "I Wish You Wouldn't Say That," plus the B-side acoustic version of "Psycho Killer" and "Sugar on My Tongue," which previously appeared on Sand in the Vaseline; there's also a good previously unreleased outtake of an early song called "I Feel It in My Heart," which is also on the DVD side as a compelling video performance of the band playing at the Kitchen in 1976, while there's video of the group live in 1978 playing "Pulled Up." More Songs About Buildings and Food has a spare version of "Stay Hungry" cut during the 77 sessions, along with alternates of "I'm Not in Love" and "The Big Country," which are lean, fairly rough, and exciting. There's also a previously "Country Angel" version of "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel," which is built on acoustic guitars and has heavy washes of organs; there are two live performances from 1978 on the DVD side. Fear of Music -- which rivals Remain in Light as the best overall remastering here -- has alternate versions of "Life During Wartime," "Cities," and "Mind," plus the "unfinished outtake" "Dancing for Money," which may have a promising groove, but is as unfinished as it's billed, containing little more than a rhythmic vamp and two basically wordless guide vocals; the DVD side contains two performances from their 1980 appearance on the German TV show Rockpop. Remain in Light has four unfinished outtakes, and the fact that they're not finished should come as no great surprise given the way that the album was recorded from the rhythm tracks up, but all four are excellent, dense rhythmic vamps highlighted by "Fela's Riff," which is so tight there's no room for guide vocals, and the intertwined, trippy "Double Groove" ("Right Start" mutated into "Once in a Lifetime"). The DVD side contains Rockpop appearances from 1980, but not any music videos. Speaking in Tongues has just two bonus tracks: the unfinished "Two Note Swivel," which is closer than anything on Fear of Music or Remain in Light to being completed, since David Byrne actually has words in addition to the melody, plus an alternate "Burning Down the House" that isn't as lively as the finished version; the DVD contains videos for "Burning Down the House" and "This Must Be the Place." Little Creatures contains an early version of "Road to Nowhere" that is much tamer and simpler than the finished version, and an early version of "And She Was" that lacks the pre-chorus and sounds like a rough demo; there's also an extended mix of "Television Man" that was released as a 12" single, plus vidoes of "And She Was" and "Road to Nowhere" on the DVD side. True Stories has an extended mix of "Wild Wild Life" that was originally issued on the original CD version of the album, plus "Papa Legba" and "Radio Head" taken from the film True Stories -- they contain the original Talking Heads backing tracks but are sung by Pops Staples and Tito Larriva, respectively; the DVD has videos for "Wild Wild Life," plus "Love for Sale." Finally, Naked, perhaps appropriately, has the least amount of bonus material, containing just the outtake "Sax and Violins," which was released on the Until the End of the World soundtrack, and the DVD contains the video of it as well.

It's a lot of material to get through, and many fans may prefer to wade through it as individual releases, particularly since the bonus material does get less interesting around Speaking in Tongues. They also may feel a little burned because the unreleased songs and alternate takes here are much more compelling than the unreleased material on Once in a Lifetime, and they also may feel burned that not every music video the group did is here, when there clearly was space to fit them in. So, there's plenty to complain about, but there's also plenty to celebrate, since despite it all, this set does deliver the basics: it has the albums in glorious remastered sound, plus good bonus material. The packaging and presentation could have been better, but fans who want to shell out for this very expensive set will at least be satisfied that their desire for improved sound and bonus tracks has finally been fulfilled.

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