Talking Heads Brick Box set, Best of, DualDisc
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The first complete artist catalog released on DualDisc! This specially packed boxed set contains all eight of Talking Heads' studio albums, expanded and remastered as two-sided Dual Discs featuring audiophile DVD-A sound, rare and previously unreleased material, and video tracks. Packaging includes an outer white molded plastic box with raised song titles, housing eight individually packaged white jewel cases, each containing liner notes, rare photos, and song-inspired art pieces. Rhino. 2005.
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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).
Each DualDisc contains a remastered stereo mix on one side and a 5.1 dolby surround (DVD-A) mix of the other side. Each side comes with different bonus tracks, varying from outtakes to remixes, music videos and rare live video footage.
Of course, like with every boxset, the collection is not complete - there are different alternate versions and outtakes on the previously released "Sand in the Vaseline" 2CD set and "Once in a Lifetime" boxset, but "Brick" offers a lot of new -and previously unreleased- material to keep you busy for a while.
The 5.1 surround mix - done by longtime Talking Heads producer Eric 'E.T.' Thorngren and Heads' keyboard player Jerry Harrison - is by far the best surround mix I've ever heard. It beats 'new' surround albums like the latest Beck and Bjork easily with an amazing mix that puts you in the perfect spot with the band playing just in front of you and effects (percussion!) haunting you from every corner of the room. And it all sounds natural! Try anything from "Remain in Light" or "Naked" (the bands most tense albums) in surround and you know what I mean.
But also the less complicated albums (Jerry added some nice linernotes on the 5.1 mixes to every album) sound spectacular in surround; it's unbelievable that everything you hear now (handclaps, basslines, percussion, background vocals, soundeffects) was on the original records when they were first recorded - A lot of details were inaudible on the vinyls and previous CD releases, so even for the die-hard fans (and I consider myself one), there's a lot to explore on the new discs.
Each DualDisc comes with linernotes, lyrics and a limited edition artprint (mostly reproductions of works from Frank Olinsky's book "What the Songs Look Like).
Highlights for me -besides rediscovering the entire Talking Heads backcatalogue in glorious surround sound and high-detailed stereo mixes- include old live video footage (a 3-piece Talking Heads with drummer Chris Frantz on Xylophone!), super-funky unreleased outtakes on "Remain in Light", early versions of classic hits like "Road to Nowhere" and "And She Was" and a special extended version of "Burning Down the House" in surround sound that was done especially for this release.
The DualDisks are scheduled for seperate release in January 2006, but if you want them all, "Brick" is for you.
So if you've been holding out on this wonderful music because of concerns about the DualDisc format (or you're just unable to get the discs you already bought to play correctly) get yourself to Amazon's UK website and order the cd+dvd-a packages (which include all of the same music but slightly different graphics, including no outside "brick").
Oh, to the previous reviewer who explained how to "fix" his Pioneer to get it to the play the dvd-audio tracks by changing the setting from dvd-audio to dvd-video: When you did this, you instructed the player to play the Dolby Digital tracks that are also available on these discs. You are NOT listening to the higher resolution dvd-audio tracks but rather lossy, compressed Dolby Digital tracks. Yes, they are the same mixes but the audio fidelity is markedly different.
1.) The CD side plays on only 1 of my 4 home players... a very old Sony changer, but they don't play on a newer Sony SACD player, nor on my Marantz Universal player or Toshiba DVD player. Strangely, I can play or rip the CDs in my Mac G5, and they do play in both my car players.
2.) No Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. I am no fan of the sound of DD, but for people without DVD-Audio players, you are out of luck on hearing the amazing 5.1 mixes. With other DualDiscs, i've been burned the other way.... only getting a DolbyDigital 5.1 mix that sounds worse than the normal CD tracks. Dual Disc labelling is seriously misleading!!
3.) The DVD-Audio 5.1 mixes are truly amazing, in both mixing and sound quality, but oddly, the center channel is out-of-phase with the Front Left & Rights. I have never heard this with any other 5.1 DVD-A or SACD discs, so it is not a problem with my system. I find the sound to be much better with the center turned OFF, as the phase cancellation sucks the life out of the front channels.
SO... the content is amazing, but Dual Discs are NOT. They are a cruel joke that i will continue to fall for whenever i see one that I really really want. But if you have a DVD-A player, then you must hear these discs!
Now, then...the Brick.
What a great idea. Remaster all the albums, both in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, one mix on either side of each disc in the DualDisc format, and box them all together. They play 5.1 in either DVD-Audio players or regular DVD players.
The 5.1 mixes are a revelation...I've been listening to this music for over 20 years and I'm hearing so many things for the first time that have previously been buried in the mix...really incredible. Almost all of the discs benefit from this depth and clarity - especially More Songs, Remain in Light, and Naked. However, these were remixed by Jerry Harrison...so the keyboards are jacked up really high in the mix. Which is cool in some cases as they were initially (unfairly) minimized on certain albums. But it also means that Speaking In Tongues is an entirely different listen. The keyboard parts have dated a little bit, so it becomes a true artifact of the 80's. Huge sound, swirling effects, and distracting stereo trickery. It's almost as if it were reproduced by Esquivel.
Now for the bonuses -- the extra tracks on each disc are fascinating. Not fascinating enough to warrant repeated listenings in most cases, but intriguing if you're a Talking Headsophile. The artifacts from the Fear of Music and Remain in Light sessions, especially, provide indications as to Eno's influence in their writing process at the time. They sound much like Eno songs backed by the Heads. The demos, alternate takes, and remixes of several songs are also very cool. There are also a handful of additional outtakes, such as "I Feel It In My Heart" from the 77 sessions (which was deservedly left off the album) and "Sax and Violins" from the Naked sessions (which would have provided a much-needed ray of hope to close out the oppressively bleak second half of that album). However, some of them are given the 5.1 treatment while others inexplicably are not.
Worse, they've neglected to include some of the outtakes they've released on other collections in the past. Where's "I Want to Live", "Popsicle", "In Asking Land", "Gangster of Love", and "Lifetime Piling Up"? Those last two or three songs are lame, but as long as they're being comprehensive here, what gives? Also missing are the alternate versions of "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town" and "New Feeling" previously released elsewhere. You can get some of this stuff on iTunes, by the way -- just not here. But that's not as unforgivable as the video omissions.
Although their last feeble collection, "Once in a Lifetime", was kind of a joke, it came boxed with the spectacular, expanded DVD version of their video collection "A Storytelling Giant". All of their videos were included with the original between-song vignettes intact. The Brick doesn't include this disc. Instead, they give us some early live stuff (admittedly, the shaky footage of "Warning Sign" gives me the shivers, it's so good) some Fear of Music-era live stuff (fine) and a smattering of their videos later on.
Excellent, but where's my favorite video of theirs, for "(Nothing But) Flowers"? How about "The Lady Don't Mind" or "Stay Up Late?" For god's sake, where are the original, revolutionary videos for "Crosseyed and Painless" and "Once in a Lifetime"!? They're shucked for live versions of both songs. This is shocking.
The packaging looks neat from the outside. Like everything else the band does, it's designed to fascinate. But it couldn't have killed them to have the names of the discs embossed on the spines. Likewise, it'd be great to be able to see exactly where the bonus songs are on the disc without digging through the CD insert to find the song titles. But now I'm nitpicking.
All that aside, I've spent hours poring over this treasure trove. It's my favorite band, after all. But you shouldn't spend this much on a boxed set and not get everything they could feasibly have crammed into it. Was it a contract issue or some kind of rights agreement that kept these significant items off the set? Good thing it was a gift, or I'd feel a liiiiiiitle cheated. But I'm going to give the Brick four stars because the band's just about the best thing in the world and this is where you can find (almost) all of it.
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