With the news that the theatrical re-release of Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense has exceeded the box office gross of the original film, we've given a listen to the recent release of the movie's soundtrack, now streaming everywhere, as we kick off the Weekend (Stream) early!
Earlier this fall, the late Jonathan Demme's film of Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense returned to cinemas from buzzy studio A24 (Everything Everywhere All at Once, Priscilla) in a restored print. Variety has just reported that the re-release has earned $5 million at the box office, surpassing the gross of the movie's initial 41-week run in 1984. (Ticket sales aren't adjusted for inflation, however, so attendance was still higher four decades ago.) To accompany the film, Rhino revisited the original soundtrack as a freshly remastered 2-LP or digital set, bringing 19 songs together from various past releases (including the previously unreleased performances of "Cities" and "Big Business/I Zimbra") to assemble a "complete" version of the album.
While Stop Making Sense remains a compelling listen from start to finish - capturing David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison at the top of their game, touring behind 1983's Speaking in Tongues at Hollywood's famed Pantages Theatre - it nonetheless only tells half of the story. One of the most striking qualities of Demme's concert film is its stark simplicity. There are no talking heads, only Talking Heads; audience reaction shots are kept to a minimum; and the director "merely" documents the onstage activity instead of overtly commenting on it. His work never draws attention to itself, preferring to cede the spotlight to the artists onstage. The immediacy and urgency of the film as shot by Demme and edited by Lisa Day is, of course, absent from the audio-only soundtrack. The music is sui generis, but divorced from the striking visuals, it's a bit less exciting. But if the album functions best as a souvenir of the full cinematic experience, it hardly lacks merit on its own terms.
Byrne, Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison were joined at the Pantages by background singers Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, guitarist Alex Weir, P-Funk co-founder and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and percussionist Steve Scales. As in the film, these additional players are introduced gradually. The album and movie open with frontman Byrne's twitchy, solo "Psycho Killer," which was performed on a bare stage with scaffolding, an exposed wall, and wooden stairs. Bassist Weymouth joins on "Heaven," as the stage is assembled before the audience's eyes. Drummer Frantz makes three on "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel," with guitarist/keyboardist Harrison completing the lineup on "Found a Job." By the time background vocalists and additional musicians join for "Slippery People," the expect-the-unexpected ethos of both film and soundtrack is well-established. If only the soundtrack could preserve the wiry Byrne's uninhibited dancing on "Slippery People" or jogging laps during "Life During Wartime," just two of many moments of infectious fun throughout.
The setlist found room for "Genius of Love" from Frantz and Weymouth's side project Tom Tom Club, and "Big Business" and "What a Day That Was" from Byrne's score to Twyla Tharp's Broadway dance piece The Catherine Wheel. The high energy level of the music and movie never flag, with set-piece highlights including the rambunctious "Burning Down the House," hypnotic and swooning "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)," and anthemic "Once in a Lifetime" (the accompanying visuals of which find Byrne as a bespectacled, shellshocked preacher). Hearing "Girlfriend is Better" happily evokes the film's most famous image of the singer in his Noh-inspired "big suit."
Despite the lyrics of "Life During Wartime" insisting "this ain't no party, this ain't no disco," both are certainly conjured via Stop Making Sense. Even as the lyrical themes veer from dark to light and back again, the visceral punch of the Talking Heads' music generates a euphoric (and communal) high. The concert's lone cover, of Al Green's "Take Me to the River," is a euphoric expression of unbridled musical freedom; it leads into the "Crosseyed and Painless" finale in which a reggae-fied dance beat effortlessly fuses with pure rock. In the movie, Demme finally shows the audience: dancing, naturally. Listening at home, you just might find yourself dancing along with them.
The 2-LP vinyl presentation, nicely remastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound, is packaged in a single sleeve; the accompanying booklet has new liner notes from all four members of the band. Though the initial vinyl pressing is sold out, the remastered Stop Making Sense remains available digitally for streaming and download via Amazon, Apple Music, and everywhere else. No plans for a CD release have been announced, but one would most certainly be welcome; don't be shy about requesting one in the comments. Then again, in this case, a Blu-ray and 4K release of the restored film would best capture the sublime marriage of visuals and music that has made Stop Making Sense such a remarkable success story all over again.