Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Plunderphonics

 JOHN OSWALD

Plunderphonics 69/96

(fony)


(Uncut review I think)

 

In this "pop will regurgitate itself" era, sampling and referentiality is so par for the course, it's barely comment-worthy. Flashback, though, to a time when the debates about bricolage and (re-, mis-, and ex-) appropriation were more urgent: the late Eighties of Def Jam, the JAMMS, M/A/R/R/S, Steinski, that moment when the sampler suddenly got much cheaper. Canadian avant-gardist John Oswald had been messin' with music by iconic artist for years, using traditional tape-editing techniques, and he seized the opportunities presented by the new digital technology. The result was 1989's Plunderphonic CD: songs by Elvis Presley, James Brown, Count Basie, Stravinsky,  and others, vivisected and rebuilt into grotesque mutant alter-egos.   What was different about Oswald's approach was that each track focused on a single artist, and usually a single work. This sort of aural Pop Art mischief wasn't unprecedented, either in the academy (James Tenney's 1961 Elvis-deconstruction "Collage No. 1 (Blue Suede) or in pop itself (The Residents Reich'n'Roll), but Oswald's cover (per)versions were especially extreme.

 

Despite being scrupulous about identifying his sources, and circulating Plunderphonic on a non-commercial basis, Oswald was persecuted by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (largely because CBS were upset by his reworking of Michael Jackson's "Bad") and forced to destroy all remaining copies of the CD. For years, the only way to hear it has been to contact various Copyright Liberation outfits who'd tape it for free. But now, finally, Oswald has secured permission for all his  "electroquotes" and has re-released Plunderphonic, plus some of his earlier and later collages, in a deluxe CD box. There's an extensive booklet, which goes into fascinating detail about Oswald's techniques and diverse approaches to each different song-treatment, along with all the related issues of originality, copyright, artistic signature, etc, that Oswald is exploring.

 

Listening to the set's two discs, a certain Oswald "signature" emerges:   a partiality for choppy, fractured rhythms and weird time signatures. The herky-jerky cut-up of  "Hello I Love You" sounds like the Magic Band reduced to eking out an existence as a covers band, with the players uncannily imitating the Doors's instrumental and vocal timbres, but restructuring the tune in the jagged spirit of Trout Mask Replica.  Extracts from Plexure, Oswald's attempt to compress the entire pop universe into one 20 minute piece, offer a frenzy of crescendos, choruses, soul-screams, whammy-bar back-blasts, etc, an FM radio inferno that spawns monstrous hybrids like Annie Lennox amalgamated with Fine Young Cannibals inna Cronenburg/The Fly-stylee.  There are also moments of beguiling delicacy, though: offcuts of Juan Carlos Joabim bossanova rewoven into a beautiful quilt of lilt; "Strawberry Fields Forever" condensed into a quintessential quiver of wistful ethereality; a varispeeded "White Christmas" that makes Bing's croon droop and ooze like a Dali dreamscape. "Pretender" is a sex-change version of a Dolly Parton song descending from only-audible-to-dogs ultra-treble to a testosterone-thick basso profundissimo, and  executed using a Lenco turntable that  goes from 80 rpm down to 12 rpm.

 

The most stunning of  Oswald's plunderphonic feats is "Dab", his infamous unravelling of Michael Jackson's "Bad".  Attempting to bring sorely-needed electricity to what he felt was musically lifeless, Oswald does his usual Beefheart/Zorn-style thing at first, transforming the song into convulsive cyber-funk. Halfway through, though, the remake ascends to another place altogether. Micro-syllable vocal particles are multitracked as if in some infinite hall-of-mirrors vortex, and this ghost-swarm of nano-Jacksons strobes stereophonically from speaker to speaker, while simultaneously billowing back and forth through dub-space. The opposite approach to Plexure's maximalist assault, "Dab" creates a new universe within a finite, not-especially-great pop song. It's one of the most cosmic (micro-cosmic?) things I've ever heard. And it alone justifies the not-cheap admission price to Plunderphonics 69/96. 


John Oswald

Plunderphonics 69/96

(Seeland/Mordam)

(eMusic review I think)

Canadian avant-gardist John Oswald is most renowned for 1989’s Plunderphonic, the CD on which he turned sampling into a form of digital iconoclasm--literally smashing pop idols to smithereens. Unlike most practitioners of sampling, Oswald concentrated on reworking a single work by a single artist: typically, vivisecting a song and recombining the sliced’n’diced parts into a grotesque Frankenstein’s monster. Despite scrupulously identifying his sources and circulating Plunderphonic on a strictly non-commercial basis, Oswald was hounded by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CBS were vexed by his mauling of Michael Jackson's "Bad") and ultimately forced to destroy all remaining copies. A double-CD career anthology, 69/96 makes available again the Plunderphonic tracks. It also includes Oswald’s pre-sampling pieces (the Mystery Lab cassettes done by tape cut’n’splice or using a doctored turntable going from 80 rpm to 12 rpm) and excerpts from later works like Plexure (5000 radio hits “composited” into a 20 minute barrage of crescendos, choruses, soul-screams, whammy-bar back-blasts, and so forth). Oswald is a serious artist aiming to raise all kinds of questions relating to copyright and artistic originality. But there’s a strong element of pure mischief to plunderphonia, and one way of responding to 69/96 is to treat it as a barrel of laughs.

 Disc One

 “O’Hell” is a hilariously herky-jerky undoing of The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You”. “Sfield” distils “Strawberry Fields Forever" into a tremulously ethereal wisp of wistfulness. “White” makes Bing Crosby’s croon ooze pendulously like Dali’s melting clocks. “Pretender” inflicts sex-change on Dolly Parton by taking her voice from bat-squeak treble to molasses-thick infra-bass. Piece de resistance and yet-to-be-topped career pinnacle, though, is “Dab”, Oswald’s unraveling of “Bad”. It starts as epileptic cyberfunk, then halfway through takes off into the cosmos, with Oswald multitracking a myriad infinitesimal particles of Jackson’s voice into a billowing shroud that strobes eerily across the stereo field. One of the most ecstatically disorienting things you’ll ever hear.

 Disc Two

 Listen long enough to plunderphonia and a certain  Oswald “signature” emerges--a fondness for fractured rhythms and disconcerting time signatures (you get the impression that he never quite recovered from hearing Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica). On this disc, based around instrumental music rather than the first disc’s focus on songs, you can hear this convulsive choppiness in “Birth1” (based on The Beatles’ “Birthday”) and “Mach” (a frenzied collage of Kronos Quartet and heavy metal). Refreshing exceptions to the pell-mell rule include the trippy undulating wooze of  “Fold” and  the eerie tranquility of “Debizet”. “dWig” , meanwhile, showcases Oswald’s skill at isolating the artistic signature of his victim (in this case, Ludwig Van Beethoven) and intensifying it to the point of caricature. 


JOHN OSWALD 

minifeature for Melody Maker


Sampling may be the everyday stuff of modern pop, but for a certain breed of avant-garde artist it's also a highly self-conscious technique that allows them to explore issues of originality and copyright. Canadian producer/composer  John Oswald is one such sampladelic researcher. His 1989 CD  Plunderphonics' involved the digital deconstruction of songs by the Beatles, Dolly Parton and Elvis, amongst many others. And it got Oswald into a heap of trouble. Acting on behalf of Michael Jackson's record company  CBS (offended as much by the cover image of Wacko's head superimposed on a nude female torso as by the drastic dismemberment of  "Bad" inside), the Canadian Recording Industry Association forced Oswald to destroy the master tapes and all remaining CD's.

      Fingers burned, Oswald has since stuck mostly to projects where his "electroquoting" has been solicited. Last year, he accepted just such an invitation from the Grateful Dead, and decided to construct a sort of megamix  of  "Dark Star", a 'song'  the  grizzled West Coast acid-rockers have been stretching out to kozmik proportions in their live improvs for more than a quarter-century.  After 21 days in the Dead's  legendary tape archive, Oswald emerged with 40 hours worth of material, which he painstakingly wove into a seamless uber-jam, using an array of digital techniques and treatments. The first instalment, "Transitive Axis", was released in late '94;  the second, "Mirror Ashes" has now been added to form a double-CD package entitled "Grayfolded". The result is both a remarkably sympathetic interpretation of the Dead's flow-motion aesthetic,  and a luminous tribute to the late Jerry Garcia.

      "Folded" refers to Oswald's primary method, "folding", whereby material from different, often decades-apart concerts is layered, achieving both Phil Spector-like textural density and an eerie anachronistic sense of time travel. "But the computer techniques behind this record are really incidental to the illusion I'm trying to present," Oswald emphasises. " People told me to stop listening to the tapes and go to a concert, 'cos live it's a totally different thing. I thought 'I can't soak the cover in acid, so how can I achieve what everybody desires--a record that captures this feeling that Dead concerts are magic?'  So I did things that are unnatural, like have a young Garcia harmonise with an old one, or have an orchestra of multiple Dead musicians, all in order to pump up the sonic experience so that at certain points you think: 'What's happening? Have the drugs kicked in?'".

      "Grayfolded" got a surprisingly positive reception from the Deadhead community (50 thousand sold of  the first disc!); surprisingly, since Deadheads tend to adhere to a Luddite, keep-music-live ethos. Oswald's favourite reaction was from an Internet correspondent "who wrote that 'Grayfolded' made him cry, because it encapsulated 25 years of Garcia, yet it's unreal in a way that gave him a very visceral sensation of it being a ghost."  But even if, like me, you're no Deadhead, "Grayfolded" will leave you mind-blown and spooked-out. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Throbbing Gristle - first exposure

 the first time I heard TG, when the stuff was reissued on CD as part of Mute's The Grey Area programme of reissues (so circa 1990?)

written for Melody Maker, but for some reason unpublished - mislaid? 


THROBBING GRISTLE 


THE SECOND ANNUAL REPORT

20 JAZZ FUNK GREATS

D.O.A - THE THIRD AND FINAL REPORT

HEATHEN EARTH

MISSION OF DEAD SOULS

Industrial/Mute


     For those of you for whom "Psychocandy" is the dawn of pop time, it'll be hard to comprehend how unimaginably different the scene was when I was a nipper. Post-punk, we lived in a culture of confrontation, not consolation.  Today, rock groups aim to immerse us in 'dreamtime', simulate the effects of drugs; back then, the goal was to wake us up from our mass culture sleep, rouse us from our zombie addiction to TV and pop.

     Throbbing Gristle were all about confrontation: "confronting all assumptions", testing the outer limits of their audiences' tolerance. They began as an "art-rage" collective called COUM, whose "Prostitution" show at the ICA made front page headlines only a few months before punk. Stepping sideways into music, they modelled themselves as a corporation in order to expose the industrial nature of the pop biz.  Demystification was their modus operandi and raison d'etre (c.f. the mysticism and mystique of 1991 rock).  Live, TG played "disconcerts". The 'music' was a mirror of a world of unremitting ugliness, dehumanisation, and brutalism.  They took the degradation and deterioration, maiming and mutilation, of sound to nether limits that even now have yet to be under-passed. ("Second Annual Report" was recorded on a Sony Cassette Recorder with condenser mike to get a deliberately thin, compressed sound.)

     Along with Cabaret Voltaire, TG invented the "industrial" sound: synth-drones and squelches; hissing, programmed percussion; tape-loops and found sounds; hideously mangled, effects-ridden guitar; creepy vocals. Sometimes TG sound like Loop or Hawkwind liquidised into an ambient puree then played at 16rpm. Later ("20 Jazz Funk Greats", parts of "Heathen Earth"), they explored a different but equally disorientating kind of sound, leaving the noisome aural effluent for clinical, arid, ultra-pristine electronic music. "Tanith" is morose mood muzak, with vibes and a clammy 'jazz' trumpet like an android version of Miles Davis; "What A Day" is a lurching electro-dirge with vocals that whinge in a preposterous Cockernee accent; "Adrenalin" anticipates the serene sterility of ambient house.

     TG also coined the gamut of "industrial" obsessions:serial killers, conspiracy theories, subliminals and brainwashing, etc. Above all, they coined the industrial attitude, a sort of gynecological drive to probe reality and expose the visceral mess behind the facades of everyday life. I use the word "gynecological" because Woman was the privileged victim of all this vivisection: "Slugbait" is a corny tale of a "wicked boy" who pulls a foetus out of a seven months pregnant mother and chew its head off; a later version of the same song features a taped confession by a girlchild-murderer; "Hamburger Lady" goes into gruesome forensic detail about a real-life burns victim.  There's even a song called "We Hate You (Little Girls").  Whatever the ethics of TG's intentions, their work was always going to be easily adopted by twisted retards, pervs and teenage ghouls.

     TG's work did occasionally, perhaps inadvertently, create "beauty" (e.g. the derelict, industrial blues of "Weeping"). But because the aim was to reflect/amplify the monochrome horror of it all, too often these records are simply unendurable, a deadening dead end.  Eventually, Genesis P. Orridge seems to have come to the same conclusion. First, there was "hyperdelia": Psychic TV's rediscovery of colour and flamboyance as expressed in the kaleidoscopic sounds of acid rock and incarnated in the dandyism of Brian "Godstar" Jones (adorning rather than reflecting reality). Then there was "techno acid beat", Jack The Tab's response to the fact that TG's "death factory" of electro-drones and trance-pulses had resurfaced (in acid house) as a pleasure factory.  An orgasmotron, in fact. 

In view of these subsequent developments,  perhaps TG should be remembered as a necessary, but necessarily transitional phase (minimalism, reductionism, negation) before the return to affirmation and expansion. TG will endure, as Jon Savage puts it in his liner notes, as "a reference point and a shudder", but probably not as something people actually listen to much.

                                            

Friday, October 1, 2021

two Heads

Talking Heads

TALKING HEADS

(Rhino/Warners)

Blender, 200?


Preppy foursome decide "funk art, let's dance", create four postpunk

classics in a row, mutate into intermittently inspired pop group, and now

finally get the deluxe box set career wrap-up they've long deserved.


Talking Heads were CBGB staples but they never really fit New York's punk scene. Partly it was because their cleancut image and highbrow gentility stood out amid the leather-jacket fraternity of juvenile delinquent wannabes. Mostly it was because they were making dance music at a time when punk consensus decreed that disco sucked. Crucially, though, Talking Heads didn't sound like honky musicians playing funk with studious fidelity and precision a la Average White Band, so much as they resemble what funk might have sounded like if it had actually been a WASP-y white invention in the first place. In their music, you can hear the urge to get down and get loose struggling with tight-assed neurosis.

Nervous, twitchy, seemingly alienated from his own flesh,  David Byrne physically embodied this tension onstage. Discomfort and detachment also provided the subject of many of his most provocative lyrics. In song after song, he seems squeamish about his own emotions. Like Johnny Rotten, it's almost as though he'd prefer to have "no feelings"  and instead lead a life entirely of the mind, all curiosity and fascination rather than messy passion. "I'm Not in Love," from the second album More Songs about Buildings and Food, is less 10 CC and more Gang of Four ("Love Like Anthrax," specifically). "Why would I want to fall in love?" ponders Byrne."There'll come a day when we won't need love." "No Compassion," from the debut Talking Heads: 77, considers empathy disabling and burdensome: "Other people's problems, they overwhelm my mind". Both albums contain several not-quite love songs, such as "Happy Day," whose line "feel like my heart has a will of its own" suggests a distanced attitude to one's own amorousness.  Yet the sound of 77 and More--Byrne's fluttering rhythm guitar, the crisp 'n' quivery funk of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison's darting flickers of keyboard--actual feels like butterflies in your stomach.

The title More Songs About Buildings and Food chimed with the New Wave belief that you could and should write about other things apart from relationships or rock's standard-issue rebel scenarios. More than More, though, it's  1979's Fear of Music where Byrne widens his lyrical reach. In "Cities', he assesses the competing charms of various urban environments, while "Animals" is a paranoid curmudgeon's rant about the irresponsibility of all them wild critters. When Byrne does write about love, though, there's still that sense of alienation. In "Mind," he's desperately seeking the magic verbal formula to dissuade his partner from leaving. Mid-song, he abruptly levitates above himself with a wry, self-mocking "and it comes directly from my heart to you," as if trying to escape the fatuity of his own feelings through a sort of out-of-body irony.

Sonically, Fear is astonishingly varied, stretching from the African music/disco/Dadaist poetry fusion of "I Zimbra" to the radically modernized psychedelia of "Drugs". Starting with More Songs and blossoming on Fear, Talking Heads had struck up a fruitful relationship with producer Brian Eno, who helped them develop an ultra-vivid palette of textures and a panoramic sound. By 1980's Remain In Light, the mutually infatuated Byrne and Eno began to resemble a pair of cerebrally over-endowed Siamese twins. Obsessed with African polyrhythms, they convinced the initially compliant band to write in a new way, building layer by layer from multiple bass-pulses, percussion lines, rhythm guitar tics, and graffiti-like smears of synth. Byrne's grail was a tribal music for faithless postmoderns, a trance-dance sound to heal the soul-sick spiritual emptiness evoked in songs like "Houses in Motion". "Listening Wind" goes further, seeing the West from the outside, through the eyes of a terrorist bomber disgusted by American Coca-colonialism.

Having started the Seventies as a key component of Roxy Music, the era's greatest art rock outfit, Eno ended the decade as unofficial fifth member of a group that surpassed Roxy's achievement. But the expansion of Talking Heads sound on Remain caused intolerable strains within the group; Harrison, Weymouth and Frantz smarted from having been virtually relegated to session musicians. To save the band, Byrne agreed to part ways with Eno and revert to the taut tunefulness of  their early days. The fact that Remain was their least commercially successful record (despite spawning an early MTV favorite with the video for "Once In A Lifetime",  one in a series of artful promos) provided further impetus to scale back to versus-chorus-middle-eight strictures. The awkwardly transitional Speaking In Tongues (1983) generated their first real hit, "Burning Down The House," but its jewel was "This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)," an exquisite attempt to write a love song devoid of romantic clichés, full of witty but heartfelt lines: "I'm just an animal looking for a home," "you have a face with a view."

On subsequent albums, though, Byrne's apparent coming to terms with commonplace emotions leads him towards a sentimentalization of the common people, in the process sacrificing much of the tension that gave the group its edge. Paralleling a general mid-Eighties shift towards Americana, Little Creatures (1985) replaced funk with country influences (pedal steel, jingle-jangle finger-picking, and, on "Road To Nowhere," a Cajun march feel). The next album, 1986's True Stories, plunged wholesale into fascination with what we'd nowadays call the red-state heartland--the very place the boho Byrne once scorned in  More Songs' "The Big Country." Looking down (in both senses) on middle America from an airplane window, Byrne had declared "I wouldn't live there if you paid me to" and "it's not even worth talking about those people down there". But now with True Stories' "People Like Us", he seemingly celebrated the apolitical fatalism of ordinary folks with lines like "we don't want freedom/we don't want justice/we just want someone to love".

Naked, the group's 1988 swansong, ended this America First phase, opening the Heads sound to world music influences once again. Instead of  Fela Kuti-style polyrhythms, though, the touchstone for songs like "(Nothing But) Flowers" and "Totally Nude" was the quicksilver guitars of more recent Afropop like the Bhundu Boys. Among the most breezy, beatific songs Talking Heads ever recorded, "Nude" and "Flowers" sounded like the work of a rejuvenated band reaching an unexpected third wind. But the Heads split shortly after its release, and Byrne has vowed they'll never reform.

TALKING HEADS corrals the group's entire oeuvre, crisply remastered and garnished with out-takes (whose highlights include a wonderfully overwrought alternate version of "Mind"). Each album comes with the inevitable second disc of rare video footage plus 5.1 Surroundsound mixes of the LP in question. Rendering redundant 2003's unwieldy Once In A Lifetime box through the double-whammy of comprehensiveness and user-friendliness, TALKING HEADS' s must-own-factor is diminished slightly by having the classic first four albums sit alongside Speaking and True Stories (both unsuccessful even on their own reduced terms). Eno, arguably the crucial X-Factor catalyst for the group's golden era output,  recently claimed that he sees the influence of Talking Heads everywhere. If only it were true! The idiosyncracy and sheer adventurousness of the group's way with song and sound has proved largely inimitable. Okay, over the years, bands--Orange Juice and Meat Puppets in the Eighties, Franz Ferdinand and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in the Noughties--have picked up on the group's early style, the irresistible jangle-funk of "Pulled Up" and "Found A Job".  But why haven't bands ransacked the Heads oeuvre for the dozens of other tangents spiraling off it? Entire careers--genres even--could have been built off single songs on Fear or Remain. In a sense, then, it could be that Talking Heads richest legacy still lies ahead.


a different earlier take of the same review (for Blender)


Talking Heads

TALKING HEADS

(Rhino/Warners)

Some reckon “art” and “heart” are incompatible in rock. Alumni of Rhode Island School of Design, Talking Heads often faced accusations of being detached and dispassionate. But the group wrote some of the postpunk period’s most emotive tunes, something abundantly shown by this box set, which holds all eight of their studio albums (remastered and garnished with out-takes) coupled with second discs containing rare video footage plus 5.1 Surroundsound mixes of each LP. It’s just that David Byrne approached lyrics in the same way the group handled the recording process, with a curiosity pitched midway play and research, and an eagerness to avoid the obvious. No wonder the Heads struck up a fruitful relationship with oblique strategist and sound-laboratory scientist Brian Eno for the classic trilogy More Songs About Buildings and Food/Fear of Music/Remain In Light. Having started the Seventies as a key component of Roxy Music, the era’s greatest art rock outfit, Eno ended the decade as unofficial fifth member of the only group to rival Roxy’s achievement. 

Talking Heads were CBGB staples but they never really fit with New York punk’s leather-jacket fraternity of juvenile delinquent wannabes. The group’s  image was cleancut and its crisp, funk-inflected sound couldn’t have been further from Ramones-style buzzsaw chord-pummel, while Byrne’s lyrics avoided rebel rock clichés, even celebrating office-drone conformism in “Don’t Worry About the Government.”  Talking Heads: 77 teems with honey-drizzling melody and tinkling textures. 1978’s More Songs  thickens the sound and hottens up the groove.  Tina Weymouth’s bass is the mad-catchy melodic voice on “Found a Job”, while Jerry Harrison’s keyboards give “Take Me To the River” its famous aquatic feel. 

Astonishingly varied, Fear of Music is pulled every-which-way at once, toward Afro-Dada disco on “I Zimbra” and a radically modernized version of psychedelia on “Drugs”. Byrne’s lyrics don’t stint on inventiveness either. In “Mind”, he’s a desperate lover seeking the magic verbal formula to dissuade his partner from leaving (“I need something to change your mind”, except “you’re not even LISTENING to me”) while on “Animals” he method-acts a paranoid curmudgeon ranting about the irresponsibility of all them wild critters.  

By Remain In Light, Byrne and Eno operated almost like a pair of cerebrally over-endowed Siamese twins. Increasingly infatuated with African music, they shepherded the initially compliant Heads towards a deconstructed band-sound, built up layer by layer from multiple bass-pulses, percussion lines, rhythm guitar micro-riffs, and graffiti-like flourishes of synth, and achieving coherence only through the process of editing and mixing. Byrne’s grail was a postmodern tribal music for faithless Westerners, a trance-dance sound to heal the neurosis and spiritual emptiness evoked elsewhere on Remain with “Once In A Lifetime,” “Houses In Motion,” and “The Overload.”  Rediscover the body, reintegrate with Nature, stop making sense. Or as Byrne would plead in a later song, “God, help us lose our minds”. 

But the expansion of the Talking Heads sound put intolerable strains on the group,  with Harrison, Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz effectively relegated to session musicians and Remain coming together at the mixing desk, helmed by guess-who. To save the band, Byrne reluctantly agreed to part ways with Eno and embrace the shapely economy of pop. Speaking In Tongues generated the group’s first real hit with "Burning Down The House" but its true jewel was "This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)," an exquisite attempt to write a love song devoid of romantic clichés, full of witty but heartfelt lines: “I’m just an animal looking for a home,” “you have a face with a view”.  Little Creatures reversed the advances of the Eno years, backtracking to the taut tunefulness of the group circa 1977. It abandoned the overcrowded dancefloor of mainstream Eighties pop and replaced da funk with country influences (pedal steel, jingle-jangle finger-picking, and, on “Road To Nowhere,” a Cajun march feel). Accompanying Byrne’s debut movie, True Stories saw the singer plunge into an ambivalent fascination with heartland America, a place he’d once scorned in More Songs’ “The Big Country” with the stinging “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me”.  "People Like Us" depicted the apolitical fatalism of ordinary folk, the lines "we don't want freedom/we don't want justice/we just want someone to love" leaving it unclear whether the song was critique or celebration. Naked completed the circle for Talking Heads, fusing their "American" and "African" sides. Instead of Fela Kuti-style polyrhythms, though, the touchstone for songs like "(Nothing But) Flowers" and "Totally Nude" was the quicksilver euphoria of guitarists like King Sunny Ade, while Byrne soared like Roy Orbison over lithe percussion. The better Naked songs sound like a rejuvenated Heads reaching their third wind, but the group split up shortly after its release. 

There’ s few trajectories more unlikely in pop history than the one taken by Talking Heads, who started out with the proposition “funk art, let’s dance,” stretched rock form to its dizzy limit on Remain In Light, and then mutated into one of the big pop groups of the early  MTV era, thanks to their always artful promos.  Of all the New York New Wave-era bands, they were just about the only one to get anywhere, both commercially and in the sense of sonic adventure. So hats off to the Heads.