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Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense Review

As synonymous with great musical achievement as it is with David Byrne writhing and stumbling around the Pantages Theatre on a cold December night, Stop Making Sense may very well be a peak. A monumental achievement in every sense of the word, as both a film and an album. It is hard to straddle the line of both yet Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, Byrne and a whole host of guest musicians and director Jonathan Demme did just that. Rehashing the works, giving them a bit of polish and brushing the cobwebs off of cut track Cities gives the band an excuse to talk about their pinnacle achievement decades on from their in-fighting, frigid relations with one another and monumental success.  

Cutting the bits and pieces of the film, the introduction from Byrne and the tape he wants to play, Stop Making Sense dives straight into an acoustic masterclass. Psycho Killer never sounded so romanticised. Bar the usual praise for Talking Heads’ finest hour, the mix for this anniversary record is truly worth the listen. It sounds deeper, bulkier and the quality differences are immediately noticeable. Reminiscent of the ill-forgotten CD version of the original performance, which cut and shoved bits and pieces of other songs, Stop Making Sense is finally, definitively collected. It was already for the visual medium but this feels like the first time the album has truly come together. Even as the ‘Heads themselves say in interviews, the familial feel of a band piecing themselves to completion on stage, it shows up just as strongly on the record.  

It can be heard in the transitional shifts between Psycho Killer and Heaven, the intimacies of those first two tracks are a stark and wonderful contrast to the energetic fires which burn through Once in a Lifetime. It is rare a new mix of a record can place the work higher and higher up the ranking, but with the immediate replay of Slippery People and the stunning additions of Cities and I Zimbra, it is impossible not to call this already essential album a complete and freshened, modernised masterpiece. Even the crowd sounds as though they were planted in your living room. A record which needs to be blasted at the highest volume, no way around it. Recreate the live experience in the right way. Blast Life During Wartime out, spill a drink on yourself because someone got carried away behind you.  

Stop Making Sense bleeds together into one, perfect form. It is a sincerely grand experience and when experiencing this new mixture, the weaker songs, and there are a few, feel like essential kit. Making Flippy Floppy has a haunting instrumental section which has new life breathed into it. Swamp sounds as sinister and unhinged as was likely intended the first time around. Remasters, then, are not all cash grabs. In a year where Pink Floyd and its members have rattled out Dark Side of the Moon three times, all hope felt lost for the respectful progress of bringing old tracks to a new standard. Controversial remasters come and go, but those which set out solely to scrub the new tracks with a bit of polish, as Stop Making Sense feels here, can be major successes. It is hard to argue with the crisp sound and rich new textures found within this one.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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