2020 Album Draft- Round 5 Pick 6- Aphoristical selects- The Talking Heads- Stop Making Sense.
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When I learned piano as a kid, I wasn’t especially interested in music. It wasn’t until later that I gained some keyboard role models – Freddie Mercury, The Band’s Garth Hudson, and Stevie Wonder were all players who made me wish I’d given more effort to lessons so that I could better emulate them all. My favourite though was Bernie Worrell.
Worrell is best known for his keyboard work with George Clinton’s projects – Parliament and Funkadelic. As much as I enjoy classics like ‘Flashlight’ and ‘Maggot Brain’, it was easier to connect to Worrell’s work on Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense. The album is a soundtrack for a beloved concert film – directed by Jonathan Demme, Stop Making Sense captures an expanded version of the band blasting through their catalogue, accompanied by memorable visual imagery like the gimmick of the band expanding throughout the early songs and David Byrne’s enormous suit.
Worrell served as a satellite member of the band as they expanded to beef up their live sound. The core band of Byrne, Jerry Harrison and the married rhythm section of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth were joined by Worrell, Alex Weir on guitar, percussionist Steve Scales, and two female vocalists. The group could sound a little thin on record, especially on their albums without producer Brian Eno, but live they were vibrant.
It’s the numbers from 1983’s Speaking in Tongues that benefit most from the Live treatment. Worrell’s funky synth leads cut through the interlocking guitars on an incendiary live version of ‘Burning Down the House’, and his swooping synth lines on ‘Making Flippy Floppy’ add colour. Jerry Harrison also plays keyboards, and the tandem keys on ‘Life During Wartime’ sound great.
The 16 track expanded version is stronger than the original soundtrack – most impressive is the closer ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ with its polyrhythms and Byrne on lead guitar.
1980s synths are often dismissed as dated and corny, but in the hands of a master like Worrell they sound great, and Stop Making Sense is an iconic live album.