Album Review of Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads
By Joe Hackman
Album: Stop Making Sense
Captured at Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, “Stop Making Sense” presents Talking Heads in excellent live form. The album, released on April 24, 1984, takes on a life of its own rather than being a supplement to the film of the same name.
A lone David Byrne kicks off the performance with an acoustic rendition of “Psycho Killer.” Unlike the film, in which musicians join the stage one by one, the album dives headfirst into the hectic energy. The marching beat of “Swamp” makes it one tight groove, whereas “Slippery People” transforms into an extended funk jam. For “Burning Down the House”, the band plays in full force to an ecstatic audience. The unrelenting drum beats and screeching synthesizers of “Girlfriend Is Better” greatly contrast the hypnotic riffs and chanting vocals of “Once In a Lifetime.” “What a Day That Was” offers an almost equal hypnotism, this time sped up. The band belts out an extra-groovy, toe-tapping interpretation of “Life During Wartime” -- followed by a short break. “Take Me to the River” closes out the album in dynamic, spirited glory.
With the nine-person lineup, the sound of the album becomes strikingly large and spacious. David Byrne leads the show with his trademark vocal style. Tina Weymouth’s thumping bass and Chris Frantz’s precise drumming solidify the rhythm section. Jerry Harrison swaps between keyboards and guitar, skilled at both. Ednah Holt and Lynn Mabry contribute their vocals to produce vibrant harmonies with Byrne. Steve Scales plays a variety of percussion paraphernalia - from cowbells to congas - to pepper songs with bizarre details. Bernie Worrell, of Parliament Funkadelic, utilizes a myriad of keyboard sounds to supply new texture and depth. Alex Weir, of Brothers Johnson, wails away at guitar adding an unmistakable presence and energy.
“Stop Making Sense” documents a band who transformed from an art-punk act into a powerhouse of sound. The film and the album are completely different experiences as Byrne intended. In the booklet for the album, the following question is asked: “Are live concerts better or worse than records?” If anything, Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” is a testament that, indeed, live concerts are better.