Skip to main content

98. The Heads - No Talking Just Head (1996)

Let me start with a disclaimer: I have never been in a band, so I do not understand the mentality of people who make music as part of a collective. Thus, it is completely beyond my comprehension why bands soldier on when they lose their lead singer.

I can understand getting a new singer and renaming yourself. I'm fine with that. Audioslave came out of Rage Against The Machine, Love And Rockets came out of Bauhaus. It's all good. And okay, some bands have even had success keeping their name and just getting a new singer. AC/DC, Van Halen and Genesis come to mind.

But for the most part, it's just ridiculous. Did you know The Doors made two albums without Jim Morrisson, and are still trying to keep the strange days alive even as we speak? Have you heard that The Cars are reuniting, without Ric Ocasek?! Have you seen the Steve Perry clone that Journey tours with? Did you watch Rock Star: INXS or Are U The Girl? this summer? How can these bands not realize that they are embarassing themseleves?

Maybe it's all about the benjamins, but it has happened to the best of bands. Consider The Heads, an ill-advised 1996 project by Chris Frantz, Tina Weymoth, and Jerry Harrison, three-fourths of Talking Heads. When David Byrne spurned their offers to reunite, they recruited 11 different singers and made an album. I know I said I was fine with a band going on under a different name, but I can't count this project in that category. Beyond the brief "oh that's clever" factor, is The Heads really the best name they could come up with?

And why did it even need to happen in the first place? Frantz and Weymouth could have just stuck with the Tom Tom Club. Harrison was on a hot streak producing albums for Live and Crash Test Dummies. Who knows, but it happened, and while the results are not enough to soil the Talking Heads name, they are nonetheless best forgotten.

What's strange is they recruited some pretty good singers, people like Debbie Harry of Blondie, Michael Hutchence of INXS (ironic, huh?), Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays, Maria McKee of Lone Justice and Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes. What's stranger is that they didn't play to those singers' strengths at all! Harry's charisma and sex appeal is wasted on the plodding title track, The King Is Gone is too slow and boring for Hutchence (they should have known; Never Tear Us Apart is the only good slow INXS song), and McKee's country background should have been perfect for the sometimes twangy Heads, but instead No Big Bang is just a bland rock song. Similarly, they must have decaffinated Gano before they brought him in to sing on Only The Lonely.

But the problem is more than "right-singer-wrong-song." The music is also to blame. Instead of sounding like Talking Heads with a different singer, a lot of the songs sound strangely like Depeche Mode in their rock phase. Especially guilty of this is the opener, Damage I've Done, with Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde.

In my mind, only five songs are anywhere close to okay. Punker Richard Hell does fine on the definitely-not-punk-but-still-groovy Never Mind, and Gavin Friday's closer Blue Blue Moon lands somewhere between Tom Waits and David Bowie, though not as good as either.

Surprisingly, the one of the best tracks features a non-singer. Malin Anneteg was a Swedish spoken word artist discovered by Frantz and Weymouth and her No More Lonely Nights manages to be hypnotic and engaging. And how could I ever hate Andy Partridge's Papersnow? This track actually sounds like it should, like XTC and Talking Heads got together to jam. The music is insinuating and Partridge basically shouts out nonsense, but it's still heads above everything else.

Well, everything but the biggest surprise on the album. Who would have guessed that of all these well-respected singers, Ed Kowalcyzk of Live would have produced the best song of them all? Indie Hair is funny and catchy and weird. Not what you'd expect from Kowalcyzk, but definitely what you'd expect from Talking Heads.

Despite the sporadic quality, the project was not a success and thankfully did not spawn a follow-up. Again, I have never been in a band, so I don't know what it's like. But I'd like to think that I'd know when to just let a good thing stand as it was. Maybe The Heads learned that the hard way.

Grade: D+
Fave Song: Indie Hair

Comments

Anonymous said…
You are almost completely correct. The latest and most embarassing example being "Queen + Paul Rodgers". This is wrong on so many levels. But, as a lead singer in a rock band in Los Angeles, I do recognize that if I were to leave, it would create enormous problems for the band. Should they just quit? The thing about playing music live in a "collective" as you have said is that it is SO invigorating, SO adrenalizing, SO fucking bitchin' that you really don't ever want to stop doing it. The high of that audience contact that actors and stand-ups talk about is there but it's there in spades. It isn't just momentary and, unlike those other media, if a song is not being appreciated by the audience, we can just do it for ourselves and be praised for putting on a "great show". A good band experiences a nirvana unlike any other.
But, what do you do when the face of tha band dissappears? You love to play with these other people. You love to play in front of people. It's a dilemma that has no real answer, it's just a problem.
I hate Brian May and Roger Taylor for besotting an image, but I secretly desire seeing them perform my favorite songs in concert.
Kinds sucks.
Allen
Lead Vox
www.throttlebacksparky.com
www.myspace.com/throttlebacksparky
Anonymous said…
Johnette Napolitano was in Concrete Blonde, Linda Perry was in 4 Non-Blondes.
Paul V. Allen said…
Thanks for pointing that out! I was obviously having a "blonde" moment myself. I'll fix the mistake.
Anonymous said…
I respectfully disagree with your review. This album is amazing. I never cared that Davis Byrne was absent. I approach this more like I would a compilation. Cool that the Heads wrote the music and we got to hear familiar artists venture out and do something a little different than they might have otherwise...I think Maria McKee's No Big Bang is A+. And as far as creativity goes, no one has ever done this before as far as I know. Its authentic and completely in the spirit of the foundations of this band.
electro said…
As a big Talking Heads fan, I probably should have hated this album, sounding as it does nothing like Talking Heads. I was initially taken aback by how heavy much of it is. But after 10 years or so of listening to it off and on, I find most of these songs quite memorable. It's a very inconsistent album, and sounds more like a compilation than a band, but there must be something special about the remaining heads, because with so many wildly different singers, they consistently brought it. I give it a solid B++
Anonymous said…
You are correct in theory, but wrong re No Talking Just Head. It is a brilliant album, with edgy and original songs that have stood the test of time. I agree with the previous comment - No Big Bang is a terrific song, an A+.

Popular posts from this blog

Big Bad Eddie (Is Sweet Edward Now)

I wasn't surprised this week when I heard the news that Eddie Van Halen had left our mortal realm. For one, 2020 has been such a parade of awful news that nothing terrible is shocking anymore. For another, I knew Eddie had been reckoning with cancer for a long time. And for yet another, we're all just visitors here, but Eddie was especially so. We were lucky to get him for as long as we did. * With the inordinate number of monumental musicians we've lost since David Bowie's death in January 2016, it feels like my music writing has been approximately 75% eulogies. These essays have developed a predictable formula wherein I detail my personal history with that person's music. I fear the familiarity of that risks diminishing their impact, so for Eddie I wanted to honor his sense of innovation with my own. But there's a reason that formula came about. Ever since I was a teenager, the primary goal of my writing has been discovery. In the process of writing, I learn w

REO Speedwagon: Nine Lives (1979)

Where We Left Off: With Kevin Cronin back on lead vocals and Bruce Hall replacing Gregg Philbin on bass, REO Speedwagon were finally building sales momentum with two successful albums in a row. * Nine Lives  was released in July of 1979. The title was likely a reference to the fact that it was the band's ninth album (if you include You Get What You Play For ), as well as the fact that they'd survived a level of turmoil that would have been the end of a band with less fortitude. There are also nine songs on the album. Perhaps the most interesting and puzzling thing about this record - both in sound and in presentation - is how much it represented a swerve away from You Can Tune a Piano... .  You'd think that having finally hit on a successful formula REO would want to repeat it. But on the whole the music on Nine Lives abandons the countryish pop rock of the previous record in favor of a faster, harder sound, way more "Ridin' the Storm Out" than "T

REO Speedwagon: Life As We Know It (1987)

Where We Left Off: Wheels Are Turnin' was REO Speedwagon's third consecutive multi-million selling album, producing the #1 hit "Can't Fight This Feeling." * Produced by the same team as Wheels Are Turnin' (Cronin, Richrath, Gratzer, and David DeVore), Life As We Know It was recorded while when Kevin Cronin was going through a divorce. He says making the album was a welcome distraction from his family falling apart. At the same time, his relationship with Gary Richrath was fraught with tension. That set of circumstances played a huge part in the album's lyrical content, and knowing the record was the last one for the band's classic line-up makes for an intriguing listen. For example, it's commonly held that "Too Many Girlfriends," a tune about someone running too hot for too long, is Cronin taking a shot at Richrath. This is most evident in the self-referencing line, "he better find the one / he's gonna take on the run