David Byrne Ken Tucker - Essay

Ken Tucker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[On "More Songs about Buildings and Food," The Girls Want to Be with the Girls], with its unstated but inevitable political implications, is exceptional to the Heads' style, which most often piles up vapid declarative sentences with idiot's repetition. But set within the context of the glowingly astute music, the repetition becomes everything but idiotic: the multiply allusive words serve both as hooks and quietly ironic jokes. So it is with the very title of the album…. Byrne uses as models not other rock & rollers …, but the young poets loosely referred to as the New York School—Tom Clark, Ron Padgett, and Anne Waldman. Byrne … shares with them an aesthetic/geographic sensibility in which New York is the locus of a cool, distanced, but funny approach to art. (p. 164)

For these poets, the banality of an accumulation of quotidian comments becomes, at its best, whimsically witty; at its worst, it becomes merely coy and cute. For the Heads the banal is kept on its toes since it must compete with the beat. This is certainly true of Byrne's masterpiece The Big Country, in which a startling bit of detail is added here and there or a deadpan zinger is tacked onto the end of a verse.

This grounding in the everyday, the placid ordinariness of the words and Byrne's voice, keeps the Heads honest, even earthy…. "More Songs" achieves a rock & roll rarity: It is gentle-spirited but never sentimental—a delicate, precise record that rocks hard. (pp. 164-65)

Ken Tucker, "Buildings, Food, Clothes, Landscapes, and Talking Heads," in High Fidelity (copyright © by ABC Leisure Magazine, Inc.; all rights reserved; excerpted by permission), Vol. 28, No. 10, October, 1978, pp. 164-65.