What to expect from new reissues by music trailblazers
Inaccurately lumped into the punk genre because of their affiliation with CBGB, New York City's Talking Heads proved much more resilient, eclectic and arguably more creative than their thrashing contemporaries. Frontman David Byrne's uptight, strained vocals and offbeat, often poetic lyrics, joined with the band's alternately brittle and rubbery funk to create music refreshingly out of synch with their time.
Two new CDs encapsulate the group's eight-year history, both live and in the studio. Starting with their early ambivalent art-rock and following their evolution to a mesmerizing, multitiered world-music-influenced act, the discs confirm the Heads as one of the great, often unacknowledged trailblazers bridging the gap between chilly, angst-ridden new wave and brainy urban dance pop.
The Best of the Talking Heads, a single "hits" platter, condenses the group's previously released box set and the double CD Sand in the Vaseline into one chronologically arranged, 77-minute guide for the budget conscious. But the omission of "I Zimbra," a pivotal, percussive, Fear of Music song that single-handedly shifted the quartet's approach, is conspicuous in its absence.
More interesting and ultimately more revelatory is the reissue of the live The Name of this Band Is Talking Heads. The 1982 album's delayed debut on CD is heralded by 13 (!) additional tracks. Divided into early (1977-'79) and later (1980-'81) periods, the album provides perspective on how even the oldest material, such as their first single "Psycho Killer," was reinvented onstage. The thrilling 14-track representation of their show from the early '80s shows the expanded-touring lineup exploding as their exuberant and ebullient art-funk reaches critical mass.-- Hal Horowitz
Ying and yang, anima and animus, heads and tails. Every side needs a flip, every balance a counter. In the early '70s, British glam played the theatrical femme to rock's butch. And within glam, Roxy Music succeeded thanks to a dynamic tension established between principal players Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno.
As a card-carrying member of the avant-garde, Eno brought drama to Roxy Music. He exhibited a pulsing melodicism and love of atonal kitsch that grappled and grounded Ferry's high-street pop. Was the partnership volatile? Sure, it lasted only two albums, 1972's Roxy Music and 1973's For Your Pleasure.
In the aftermath of Ferry and Eno's partnership, Roxy Music set about on a course up the pop charts, while Eno would chart new territory, inventing the unobtrusive patterns of ambient music and helping reinvent bands such as U2 in the role of producer. Now new releases celebrate both men.
Virgin Records' new The Platinum Collection features 45 tracks spanning three CDs. The Ferry/Eno albums are represented by one track each. Past that, the collection jumbles the sharply tailored crooning pop of Roxy Music with the stuff Ferry became known for as a solo act, including a healthy helping of covers. Roxy Music's place among artists including Bowie, Japan and Madness is firmly established, though, as evidenced on the collection, its later material is almost self-parody and needn't have been cobbled together in such a comprehensive way.
As for Eno, there is no attempt at overextension. Astralwerks has reissued and remastered Eno's early albums — Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World and Before and After Science — with no bonus tracks or additional material. But why fuck with antiquity? Skewing pop with both searing and sonorous explorations, Eno created a lush atmosphere, whether through synth spewed on glam stomps or eloquent, blissful instrumentals breathing with shimmering melodies.
More studies in contrast: One final case is Ferry and Eno's progeny. Co-ed quartet Ladytron, whose name comes from a Roxy Music track, emerged out of Liverpool in 2000, releasing an EP and two albums by 2002, with full-lengths 604 and Light & Magic now reissued with four live/remix bonus tracks each. Ladytron's bristling, brooding synth-pop — with its dense, stylish arrangements — shows that the marriage of Ferry and Eno's seemingly opposing sensibilities remains viable. -- Tony Ware