Talking Heads' last proper studio album before their protracted breakup finds them returning to the dynamic that produced their best work, with inspired results. As swan songs go, Naked proves to be a pretty good one: Alternately serious and playful, it once again allows frontman David Byrne to worry about the government, the environment, and the plight of the working man as it frees up the rest of the band to trade instruments and work with guest musicians. It's closest in spirit to Remain in Light – arguably too close: The first side is a collection of funky, syncopated, almost danceable tunes; the second, a murky, darkly philosophical rumination on identity and human nature. The major difference is a Latin influence replacing Light's African rhythm experimentation, most evident on the album openers "Blind" and "Mr. Jones," as well as in drummer Chris Frantz's decision to use brushes and softer percussion instruments (as opposed the big beat sound he offered up on Little Creatures and True Stories).
Released four years after the Talking Heads called it a day with 1988's Naked, Popular Favorites provides a thorough overview of one of the most important American bands of the '80s. From tightly wound early efforts such as "Psycho Killer" and "Don't Worry About the Government" to the seriously funky likes of "I Zimbra" and "Burning Down the House," David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Franz grew as musicians as they stretched the original concepts of the unit to the breaking point. Over the course of two discs and 32 selections, the anthology chronicles the Heads' development from Bowery art punks (albeit of the most civil stripe) to unlikely arena stars. A smattering of unreleased tracks and notes from the original quartet nicely flesh out the retrospective.
The title of Talking Heads' second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, slyly addressed the sophomore record syndrome, in which songs not used on a first LP are mixed with hastily written new material. If the band's sound seems more conventional, the reason simply may be that one had encountered the odd song structures, staccato rhythms, strained vocals, and impressionistic lyrics once before. Another was that new co-producer Brian Eno brought a musical unity that tied the album together, especially in terms of the rhythm section, the sequencing, the pacing, and the mixing. Where Talking Heads had largely been about David Byrne's voice and words, Eno moved the emphasis to the bass-and-drums team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz; all the songs were danceable, and there were only short breaks between them. Through the first nine tracks, More Songs was the successor to 77, which would not have earned it landmark status or made it the commercial breakthrough it became. It was the last two songs that pushed the album over those hurdles. First there was an inspired cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River"; released as a single, it made the Top 40 and pushed the album to gold-record status. Second was the album closer, "The Big Country," Byrne's country-tinged reflection on flying over middle America; it crystallized his artist-vs.-ordinary people perspective in unusually direct and dismissive terms, turning the old Chuck Berry patriotic travelogue theme of rock & roll on its head and employing a great hook in the process.