Indeed. There never was ANYTHING like Talking Heads , hasn't been since and it's a pretty good likelihood we'll never see anything like them again - " if you look around the world ". This absolutely fantastic package is a big, giant love letter, SWAK, to Talking Heads fans from head Head himself, David Byrne. As is to be expected of anything that bears his name and/or the name of his quintessential band, this set is immaculately well done, highly comprehensive and just a little off the beaten track. But of course. The Deluxe edition is the one a true "Heads" fan will probably want to have. Produced as a hard-cover book, printed on really fine stock, "Chronology" as a package itself is a feast for the eyes. Loaded with many period photographs dating back to 1975, two full years before the release of their debut album, "Chronology" is a fabulous scrapbook of shots that have rarely been seen before. And to round out matters with an odd and yet appropriate rightness, the text is the FULL, unedited, psycho-babble, stream of consciousness RANT review of 1979's "Fear of Music" by the singularly unique Lester Bangs.
Bangs' writing is work. It's utterly brilliant, loaded with explosive semantic collisions and random neuron firings, hilarious and terribly depressing at the same time, full of a kind of nihilistic acquiescence that nevertheless 'raves against the wall' with sparks and moments of sheer brilliance. It's almost as if he gets himself whipped into a pique of frenzy, from which mad and totally unforseen insights and imagery come flying out. And he's right on the money for the most part. Byrne's making this the entire text of the book is a testament to not only what Bangs had to say, but HOW he said it. It fits. It fits Byrne's work in a strange and wonderful way and it's a very very astute analysis at the same time. You have to read it in sections, bit by bit and accept the utterly personal nature of its language and conclusions. But what a ride - Just pack a lunch.
The footage used in this retrospective, goes right back to The Kitchen and CBGB's ( no time for Mud Club, though ) and it's an absolute hoot to watch these 3 very geeky characters, looking like the nerds you pushed into lockers in high ( low? ) school awkwardly but very seriously take on the mantle of rock musicians. They are SOOOOOO awkward and it's great. Byrne looks like he's going to have a nervous breakdown any second or jump out of his skin if someone were to knock over a chair. Chris Frantz looks like the kid next door and Tina Weymouth takes her role as a serious musician very seriously, knowing, I'm sure, what was arrayed against her. ( Kudos to her at a time when a "chick" bass player was NOT taken seriously at all! ) Watching these three gradually and gradually refine their, at-first, ridiculously simple oddities into the fantastically syncopated and utterly brilliant multi-layered funk/rock/afro masterpieces that will define them forever is the real magic of "Chronology". What seemed like THE most unlikely bunch of art-school twerps ( and I mean that kindly, having been one myself ) eventually become one of the greatest bands that ever emerged out of the United States is a phenomenon to watch unfold here. The addition of Gerry Harrison, ex of The Modern Lovers, was what really put this band in a position to become serious contenders. Harrison's multi-instrumental talents, his striking good looks and his own unique style of stage movement/dancing beautifully completed the Talking Heads' 'mandala'. With him in place, not appearing until the 7th song on this disc, "Don't Worry About the Government", Talking Heads really leap forward into the realm of serious consideration. It's a shift of gears and one that must've made detractors stop in their tracks and go "Wait a minute!"...
From then on in you watch the whole Talking Heads enterprise rise like an inexorable rocket. THANKFULLY included is one of the pieces they did on Saturday Night Live in 1979, just after the release of "More Songs About Buildings and Food" - "Artists Only". Perfect. Perfect for SNL, perfect for New York at that time and it was a perfect launch of Talking Heads into the wider public consciousness. Their performance that night, watched by millions across the US and Canada, was foundational in breaking them in many peoples' minds. I was SO knocked out by their absolute, complete originality and eccentricity that I went out immediately and bought "More Songs". I imagine quite a few others did too. TH's also did "Take Me to the River" on SNL that night too, but Byrne opted to choose for inclusion here their performance of the Al Green classic on American Bandstand instead. It's completely hilarious watching this band, "Green Street post-modernists", shake it up for a well-healed and unsuspecting MOR audience. Dick Clark's interview of the 4 members is almost worth the price of the entire package. Then we get some absolute gems from the 1980 "Remain in Light" period, "Crosseyed and Painless" and "Animlas" both done with the greatly expanded band that would eventually morph into the legendary "Stop Making Sense" ensemble. There are now a LOT of musicans on stage and Byrne has refined his act and on-stage persona to the master degree. His dancing on "Animals" finally reaches its twitchy, gloriously awkward, uber-mastery of the 'straight white guys can't dance' perfection. You can see "Stop Making Sense" coming just around the corner.
The 1980 band included guitar genius Adrian Belew, who at the time had just come off doing David Bowie's "Stage" tour and contributing to his "Lodger" album. He was a hot ticket then and his contribution to Talking Heads, especially heard on "Remain in Light", is extraordinary and iconic. This live band, much more expanded from the original 4, is totally cooking and you know that they'd finally created something of magnificence and grandeur. No one had ever blended such an unlikely set of styles and made them work so magnificently like the late 70's /early 80's Talking Heads. Artistically, "Remain in Light" was their apotheosis. "Speaking in Tongues" lead to "Stop Making Sense" and it finalized and further crystallized their magic amalgam of funk and alternative 'whatever'. And that is best seen and experienced by watching that film by itself. Next there are two pieces from 1982, just prior to the release of "Speaking in Tongues. Except for the inclusion of their stagey performance on David Letterman of "Burning Down the House", as the last piece in the set, Byrne then has chosen here to lead us up to that moment with this package but let the next leap of creativity, the archetypal Jonathan Demme film, be experienced as a separate thing in itself. As a coda, Talking Heads' 2002 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction performance of "Life During Wartime" concludes the set.
The Bonus materials include the 1979 South Bank Show, which is an intimate interview with each member of the band at their, then, home studio. Each one of them reveals their own very personal take on what they're doing and their aspirations for the future. Rehearsal footage, in their studio is included. It runs for about 35 minutes(!) There's a very painfully awkward David Byrne interview conducted by some smoking twerp in Berkeley ( 9:23 ) and a much-welcome audio-commentary by all four members of the band, Byrne, Frantz, Weymouth and Harrison. So, lotsa "good things".
If you're a Talking Heads fan, truly ... This is a MUST.