Happy 40th Anniversary to Talking Heads’ second studio album More Songs About Buildings and Food, originally released July 14, 1978.
Talking Heads’ album More Songs About Buildings and Food is frustratingly timeless. Their second studio album, released in 1978, it was the first product of the Brian Eno/David Byrne relationship. Less art rock, more dance music, it is a true New Wave album, with the dial turned up on the rhythm section of Tina Weymouth on bass and Chris Frantz on drums. Eno’s Roxy Music effect is worn well by Talking Heads, and has aged even better over the past 40 years.
In 1978, Talking Heads were still very punk rock. While in New York to produce More Songs About Buildings and Food, Brian Eno was introduced to the “no wave” scene. After attending a show, he rounded up the bands for the compilation No New York. More Songs About Buildings and Food is before the big suits and manicured aesthetic, delightfully rough around the edges with a New York punk sensibility.
Among the several reasons this album is a bright spot in Talking Heads’ catalog is the group’s first top 30 single, “Take Me To The River.” Their Al Green cover has Byrne’s vocal gymnastics taking the place of Green’s horn section. The down-tempo, synthesized version swaggers along, a fun take on an already perfect song. It was immediately popular, a much more commercial single than the previously released “Psycho Killer,” but just as weird and catchy.
The theme of commercialism pops up in sneaky smart non sequiturs from under the dominant basslines. The increasing anxiety of “Stay Hungry” and droning corporate speak of “The Good Thing” wink at late capitalism. Even the title of the album itself is a nod to the prescriptive nature of a sophomore album, capitalizing on fleeting relevancy.
“Found a Job” is a “live to work” nightmare, a bored couple finding love through making a television show together. Byrne cries “if your work isn't what you love, then something isn't right.” He toys with the inherent capitalism in the idea of “making it work.” At the end, the plucky break down is the most fun and danceable Talking Heads had been to date. And while the horrors of Yuppie culture feel somewhat quaint in 2018, they’re not so far away.
The galloping opening track “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” has blunt percussions and slinky synths. That signature restless cacophony continues on “With Our Love.” Both songs push the rhythm section into the forefront, the former having country roots and the latter based in funk. The entirety of More Songs About Buildings and Food exists in this space, hovering between genres, cherry-picking the most enticing, eccentric elements.
“Artists Only” is the alternate ending to “Psycho Killer,” with macabre keyboards and Byrne’s most experimental vocal performance on the album. It delivers the same antisocial anger as “Psycho Killer,” but reframed as the breakdown of a frustrated artist.
That same “artist versus everyone else” energy is converted into a satire of traditional American values in “The Big Country.” It’s a skewering of the concept of middle America in a sprawling country song. Lyrically, it examines the feeling of being a foreigner in your own country and the futility of living out the American dream. It’s deeply polarizing and political subject feels as prescient today as it did four decades ago.
In the canon of Talking Heads’ music, More Songs About Buildings and Food beautifully demonstrates the reason they were able to maintain such a high profile while keeping an avant-garde sound. Their trick to making an experimental album was to also have one very good single. “Take Me To the River” is one of Talking Heads’ most commercially successful and definitive songs. But in the same motion, they also recorded an integral album to the early New Wave movement that sounds remarkably insightful today.