4. Speaking In Tongues (1983)

“With Eno departed,” Robert Christgau noted, “this funk is quirkily comfortable.” While Christgau goes on to bemoan a lost sharpness of tack, Talking Heads do gain something from letting their hair down (or with respect to the era, proverbially styling it up): on Speaking In Tongues, they enter the glamorous chorus of the 1980s. With backup singers galore, slimy synthesizers, and some straight-up, freeballing disco, the Heads draw from all over the early parts of the decade, from poppier Madness shout-alongs (“Our house!” “My house!”) to African- and Arabic-influenced minor-key verse structures.

Speaking In Tongues could not serve as a better bridge for their catalogue, while offering a massive trove of gems in its own right. The band abruptly departs from pointillist funk neurosis only to half-cheekily borrow the manic, music video enthusiasm of New Wavers like Human League and Soft Cell; that hyperactive pop element, when united with nostalgia for American music, generated the incredible concoction that is True Stories.

For the first half of the record, they take no prisoners (the belligerent “Making Flippy Floppy” and “Slippery People” tempering popular slammers “Burning Down The House” and “Girlfriend Is Better”). Then they slide into shimmering disco tributaries (perfect oddballs “Moon Rocks” and “Pull Up the Roots”) and empty into one of the most beautiful oceans in music (“This Must Be the Place [Naïve Melody]”).

The tone of the record is shifting, without question Speaking In Tongues, but it’s their broadest and warmest, looking constantly for a way to worm in and “share the same space for a minute or two.”

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