The title of Talking Heads’ second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, slyly addressed the sophomore record syndrome, in which songs not used on a first LP are mixed with hastily written new material. If the band’s sound seems more conventional, the reason simply may be that one had encountered the odd song structures, staccato rhythms, strained vocals, and impressionistic lyrics once before. Another was that new co-producer Brian Eno brought a musical unity that tied the album together, especially in terms of the rhythm section, the sequencing, the pacing, and the mixing. Where Talking Heads had largely been about David Byrne’s voice and words, Eno moved the emphasis to the bass-and-drums team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz; all the songs were danceable, and there were only short breaks between them. Byrne held his own, however, and he continued to explore the eccentric, if not demented persona first heard on 77, whether he was adding to his observations on boys and girls or turning his “Psycho Killer” into an artist in “Artists Only.” Through the first nine tracks, More Songs was the successor to 77, which would not have earned it landmark status or made it the commercial breakthrough it became. It was the last two songs that pushed the album over those hurdles. First there was an inspired cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”; released as a single, it made the Top 40 and pushed the album to gold-record status. Second was the album closer, “The Big Country,” Byrne’s country-tinged reflection on flying over middle America; it crystallized his artist-vs.-ordinary people perspective in unusually direct and dismissive terms, turning the old Chuck Berry patriotic travelogue theme of rock & roll on its head and employing a great hook in the process.
All Music – William Ruhlmann
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