Talking Heads: The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads

Talking Heads
The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads

In 1982, Sire released The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, a live double album that existed primarily as a preemptive sayonara to a band that hadn't done anything new in two years. (David Byrne and Jerry Harrison spent 1981 working solo while Heads rhythm section Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth led their side project Tom Tom Club). Talking Heads were always extremely careful in all aspects of their presentation, and these two records were no exception. Side one showcased jittery 1977 angst-rock that swung surprisingly hard; side two compiled grander but still tense performances from 1979; sides three and four highlighted loose Afro-funk-inflected jams born out of the sudden bloom of 1980's Remain in Light. The album was a timeline and a mix tape, a growth chart and a party record.

When Jonathan Demme made Stop Making Sense in 1984, its single-disc soundtrack displaced the two-LP Name. It shouldn't have. Name was one of those extremely rare live albums that stood up alongside an artist's studio work. Sometimes more is more.

That's equally the case with the greatly expanded Name of This Band, which on CD is now almost double its initial 81-minute length: The extras are as uniformly mouthwatering as the original package. The slow-burn hypnosis of "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" makes Remain's jittery studio version sound like a rehearsal; "Cities" loosens enough of the tautness that marked the original (from 1979's Fear of Music) to retain its shape while still billowing like a kite.

Adding an Afro-diasporic fillip to straight white rock was a post-punk cliché long before the current crop of "dance-rockers" emerged, and Talking Heads were among the first to do it. But maybe they didn't even need to. To play disc one of Name is to rediscover the swift 4/4 punk stomp as the elementary rhythmic life force it should be. Drummer Frantz plays straight and steady as a speeding train, his fills serving as triumphant punctuation, his hi-hats slicing your eardrums in half. "Pulled Up," "New Feeling" ("Name of this song is 'New Feeling,' and that's what it's about," Byrne announces in his lobotomy-parody voice), and the towering "A Clean Break," with Byrne's harrowing/exhilarating "Take that love awaaaaaay!," may not swivel and bop as much as "Born Under Punches" or the finale, "The Great Curve." But only an invalid wouldn't dance to them.

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