With the release of Naked, Talking Heads departed from their formulaic pop production constantly demonstrated on their previous two albums. The band’s final project before their split was a culmination of avant-garde and Afro-pop sounds that required a more open-mind for the diehard fans.
Perhaps as a way to go out with a bang, David Byrne and company decided to head to Italy for musical inspiration. Years later, people give them props for continuing to find enthusiasm in worldly music. Unlike some of their contemporaries, Talking Heads found a way to abandon some of the trendy pop sounds present within the 1980s. Instead of staying predictable, the Heads became more broad-minded, and returned to their more creative side shown on their earlier records.
Theme-wise, Byrne had something important to say. Not only was he mindful of the ongoing political discussions occurring all over the world, but the confusion and instinctive need to ask questions is what really drove his message.
With that in mind, Byrne hired a myriad of musical performers while recording in Italy to guide him through his unusual vision. Longtime producer Steve Lillywhite was fully on board for this sudden change in design.
Byrd managed to keep everyone on sync, a task that shouldn’t have been probable. The first track on Naked, “Blind,” offers insight on that confusion that Byrne personally felt about the world surrounding him. The Afro-infused percussion mixed harmoniously with the bewilderment shown through the lyrics (Signs/signs are lost/signs disappeared/turn invisible).
Byrne bounces around some more through the genres on the Latin-inpsired “Mr. Jones.” The track itself was a lot more optimistic, as Talking Heads paint this picture of a man named Mr. Jones who will save the day for the people. Although not said clearly, the song had a political undertone attached to it. Nonetheless, “Mr. Jones” was one of the more memorable moments from a very versatile project.
Byrne even explored the very nature of civilization itself on the breezy, “Totally Nude.” It’s almost comical how open and unafraid he was to question our society and what it means to be a part of the animal kingdom. The track represented Byrne’s mindset at that time, and the “I don’t give a damn” attitude portrayed throughout the band’s final songs together.
The album took on a more serious tone as it continues on the path of creative contradiction. “(Nothing But) Flowers” was one of their more intriguing singles to date. The first half of the song had Byrne and guest backing vocalist Kirsty MacColl picturing this world of sacrificing man-made products for a more natural experience (“I fell in love with the beautiful highway/this used to be real estate, now it’s only fields and trees”), while the latter half focused more about the longing for the little things in life (“I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens”).
“The Democratic Circus” showed the Heads almost mocking the idea of politics, and how these parties can steal dreams, and then give them back. The tone was a lot more faint and laid back compared to the tracks prior to it.
The trajectory that the Heads take on the final third of this album was not only sudden, but intriguing. “Mommy Daddy You And I,” as well as “Big Daddy,” had Byrne venturing into the perception of the modern-day family. The pessimistic nature in which he attacks this theme was something that many would not have expected. He believed that family is not always as nurturing as they seem, giving me the notion that Byrne may not have had the greatest memories with his own loved ones.
The Heads finish off this strangely cohesive journey with two chilling ballads in, “Bill” and “Cool Water.” The former track had an atmospheric feel to it that left me a tad bit unsettled, especially with lyrics like, “The girls would run away/when everybody laughs at you/it can be humiliating.”
“Cool Water” was even more impactful, where human companionship was explored in a very brutal manner. The haunting end to the project exhibited progression from the more jazzy and upbeat beginning portion of the record.
Overall, the Heads made something that was both provocative and powerful. If listened to multiple times, you may find something satirical about it. In a world where pop music was dominating the culture, the Heads found inspiration elsewhere in the world, and created one final message for their fans.