As a Talking Heads fan, I'm still pinching myself to see if I'm dreaming! BRICK BOX contains all eight Talking Heads studio CDs, remastered into dualdiscs with a surround-sound option on the DVD side. Added into the mix are bonus tracks, rare live video, some not-so-rare promo clips, and photos that altogether would probably sell quite well as a stand-alone product. As impressive as the sound quality is, the key element here is the music itself. The upgraded sonics are the means to better appreciate the end. That being the fact that although Talking Heads have gotten some props (induction into the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame, for one), I still think they are hugely underrated.
Most great musical events come together via a unique balance of varied, seemingly incongruous elements, and this group is no exception. Begin with the distinctive, innovative and eccentric David Byrne (lead vocalist, principal songwriter, and guitarist), and continue with bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz, keboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison, and at times an expanded lineup of mostly funk-oriented musicians (Bernie Worrell from P-Funk, etc.). These musicians were able to blend together an amazing array of musical genres -- rock, pop, funk, gospel, etc. -- into an individualistic, constantly-evolving approach that I would argue stands the test of time as well as anyone this side of Miles Davis or Sly Stone. Unlike some others I do believe Byrne has continued this impressive streak of musical productivity as a solo artist since the group disbanded (soon after 1988's NAKED). Yet there is still something extra special about the Talking Heads' musical approach, as represented by these eight CDs.
Beginning as a left-of-center pop-meets-rock quartet, even the Heads debut in 1977 went against the grain of not only the mainstream, but also steered clear of alternative musical trends. Even the no-frills way that they dressed made a statement. The following two albums began to see their sound expanding both stylistically and sonically (in part via Brian Eno's co-production). The subsequent albums were as flawless and innovative as the debut, culminating in the absolutely brilliant REMAIN IN LIGHT (1980). Amazingly, as they got more progressive -- with prominent funk and world beat elements now central to their sound -- they became more popular; one of the too-rare occasions where the most creative music of the era found a large audience (probably because Byrne and co. didn't forget to make the tunes irresistably catchy as well as serve up provocative multi-cultural music). After a semi-hiatus, the group continued in a similar vein with 1983's SPEAKING IN TONGUES, featuring their biggest hit ("Burning Down The House"), which was quickly followed by a tour which resulted in one of the greatest rock films of all time (STOP MAKING SENSE).
Many followers believe that was the group's peak, and the last three albums were solid but less spectacular. Even if true, by any standards but their own the album LITTLE CREATURES (1985) was excellent. Perhaps it was somewhat of a retreat musically from the funk-based musical experimentation of the last several discs, but even this back-to-basics approach retained some of the intrigue and musical advances of the REMAIN IN LIGHT era. 1986's TRUE STORIES effectively put more emphasis on the tunes, while the last album (1988's NAKED, probably their least memorable overall) to an extent took its cues from the REMAIN IN LIGHT era, with Paris-based African musicians added to the quartet. However, the group never toured after 1983, and the members grew apart musically to the point where a breakup seemed the next logical step (they did reunite at their 2002 Hall Of Fame induction, still sounding ahead of their time).
Back to the fresh remixes. What the surround sound versions invariably do is expand the sound from 2D to 3D (or more accurately, 5.1 dimensional). The resulting fullness and clarity of sound are amazing to hear. In a couple of spots I take issue with the remixing decisions that were made (particularly on 1978's MORE SONGS...), but 99% of the time these new versions greatly improve on the original sound. So much more info is brought out particularly on FEAR OF MUSIC (1979) that one might at times think these are remixes with added elements. That album and REMAIN IN LIGHT in particular sound musically innovative by TODAY'S standards, let alone in comparison to their peers in the 1970s and 1980s. Really, this group could do no wrong, and these remastered versions make them sound even more right. (By the way, even if you don't have a surround sound system, the regular versions on the CD side are also significant upgrades).