After we posted our essay on The Music of Talking Heads, we were inspired to dig into their genre-jumping catalog and renewed our appreciation of their superb seventh album, Little Creatures, which was released in 1985.
"The important stuff in people's lives comes through in their living, in what they think about and what they believe," Talking Heads' David Byrne said at that time. "That's what I try to write about, rather than writing about stuff that's bigger than life."
On the discs that preceded Little Creatures, it had been difficult to determine exactly what Byrne was writing about. The succession of delirious non sequiturs that dominated the band's lyrics since its fourth album, Remain In Light, had provided real meaning to the Heads' credo: "stop making sense." But on Little Creatures, Byrne's words match the directness of the music.
Talking Heads, which formed at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975, started by crafting quirky-yet-accessible rock songs, reflecting Byrne's fascination with the little things in life. They eventually expanded the core lineup—Byrne, keyboardist Jerry Harrison, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz—to deliver music that bristled with polyrhythmic force. The songs, meanwhile, changed from rather conventional structures to open-ended riffs, which ebbed and flowed in a propulsive surge. They got back to basics on Little Creatures, though it is spiced with percussion, occasional saxophones and backing vocals. The music rocks and rolls, but it's still a potent, danceable mix. "
In the past, we did these long jamming grooves and then arranged them into songs," Frantz explained. "This time, we went back to the way we did our first few albums—to have a song written, rehearsed, and then go in and record it. The songs have a beginning, middle, and end built into them." And the renewed reliance on the quartet is evident in the pliable ensemble playing and Byrne's forceful vocals.
The songwriter's "smaller than life" approach to his material leads to a wide-eyed view of the everyday world, finding wonder in life's most mundane details. Little Creatures is infused with a euphoric, uninhibited spirit, which makes the album a durable, delightful experience. The album kicks off with "And She Was," a surrealistic tale about a woman who floats. "She had a pleasant elevation/She's moving out in all directions," Byrne declares. But the rest of the songs embrace down-to-earth matters.
A pair of songs are obsessed with babies: the whimsical “Creatures of Love” and “Stay Up Late.” The former is an amusing country-tinged primer on the miracle of birth: "Well, I've seen sex and I think it's all right/It makes those little creatures come to life," Byrne deadpans. “Stay Up Late” finds the narrator so taken with a new bundle of joy that he pleads, "Baby, baby, please let me hold him/I wanna make him stay up all night." The singer's whoops and yelps help convey his contagious glee.
“Television Man” is the album's sole extended jam, a funky rocker about a gentleman infatuated with the tube: "The world crashes in, into my living room," he exclaims. "I'm watching everything!"
“The Lady Don't Mind” is a midtempo charmer boasting an infectious chorus. And “Road To Nowhere” is the rousing finale, a gospel/C&W/rock hybrid that charges to a breakneck finish as Byrne shouts like a man possessed.
Little Creatures was a wonderful chapter in the evolving tale of Talking Heads, combining the freshness of their earliest work with the lessons learned from the ensuing decade of groundbreaking music. And it's a truly joyful noise!
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