By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
Retailing at $60, this four-disc set -- including the Storytelling Giant [Expanded] DVD -- includes 55 songs as well as 13 videos and an 80-page booklet featuring reminiscences from all the band members and essays from literary hotshots like Rick Moody and Mary Gaitskill.
Fortunately, the music and videos contained therein more than compensate for the wack packaging. Lifetime reminds us that the Heads' first five albums have held up remarkably well over the past two decades. It's hard to believe that this strange a band could garner heavy rotation on commercial radio and MTV or play large amphitheaters; in today's Clear Channel-controlled climate, the Heads would be relegated to the college radio/NPR ghetto.
Credit David Byrne's acute songwriting -- simultaneously naive and knowing -- for making Talking Heads' tunes stand out like a huge white-suit-wearing geek compared with the simpleton punks and jaded nihilists who clogged up punk and new wave's heydays. The Heads' early quartet lineup on their first two albums (77 and More Songs about Buildings and Food) employed tight and tense song structures but often created joyful, jangly pop that drew as much from African juju as it did from the Velvet Underground and Motown. With 1979's transitional Fear of Music and the subsequent artistic breakthrough Remain in Light, the Heads merged uptight, twitchy art rock with freaked-out funk and African polyrhythms.
Although 1983's Speaking in Tongues has many catchy moments and surprising flashes of funk, it signals the beginning of Byrne's slide toward whimsy. Subsequent albums, while occasionally enjoyable, show a band on the wane -- some blame Byrne's falling in love for his creative decline. Still, Lifetime memorializes one of America's most important rock bands with an apt mix of levity and gravity; just stash the boxed set itself out of view.