Talking Heads' 30th anniversary was commemorated by sonically upgrading their eight, era-defining polyrhythmic albums via dual discs in a molded white plastic box set. Each disc contains the complete album tracks and bonus cuts remastered in Stereo on its CD side, while the DVD programming on the flip offers up the album tracks in expansive 5.1 surround sound mixes, with all of the sonic upgrading personally supervised by keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison. Fans of the band will find its wealth of bonus music, which includes various B-sides and previously unreleased outtakes, as well as several videos including a number of rare live clips, to be equally intriguing as the surround sound mixes.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, listeners have long since enjoyed their fusion of rock, funk, and punk with diverse world beats, minimalism, and pure pop genius.
As a Talking Heads fan, I immediately jumped on picking this box set up when I found out it was still available. Most world-renowned groups come together via a unique balance of varied, seemingly incongruous elements, and this group is no exception. Begin with the distinctive, innovative, and eccentric lead vocalist, guitarist, and principal songwriter, David Byrne; and continue with bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz, keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison, and at times top it off with an expanded lineup of mostly funk-oriented musicians. Beginning as a left-of-center pop-meets-rock quartet, their debut in 1977, aptly named “'77,” went against the grain of not only the mainstream, but also steered clear of alternative musical trends. The following two albums “More Songs About Buildings and Food” (1978), and “Fear of Music” (1979), began to see their sound expanding both stylistically and sonically, in part via Brian Eno's co-production. The subsequent albums were as flawless and innovative as the debut and continued with the brilliant “Remain in Light” (1980). After a semi-hiatus, the group changed focus and became a lot more pop oriented as is evidenced on 1983's “Speaking in Tongues,” featuring their biggest hit “Burning Down the House.” Many followers believe that was the group's peak, and the last three albums were clearly short from spectacular. However, their album “Little Creatures” (1985) was considered very good by many fans. Perhaps it was somewhat of a retreat musically from the funk-based musical experimentation of the last several discs. 1986's “True Stories” effectively put more emphasis on the tunes and is considered their lowest point, while the last album (1988's “Naked,” to an extent took its cues from the earlier era, with Paris-based African musicians added to the quartet.
The surround sound versions create a fullness and clarity of sound that is amazing to hear. So much detail is brought out particularly on Fear of Music and Remain in Light, that it is hard to imagine all the tracks squashed into the original stereo mix. Making it seem that elements were added. Even if you don't have a surround sound system, the stereo versions on the CD side are also significant improvements to earlier mixes and masters.
These surround sound mixes, done by longtime Talking Heads producer Eric ‘E.T.’ Thorngren and Heads' keyboard player Jerry Harrison - is by far one of the best surround mixes I've heard. The listener is put in the sweet spot with the band playing just in front of you and secondary instrumentation and percussion wrapping around you from the surround channels.
Also, the earlier albums sound spectacular in surround. The listener will clearly hear the handclaps, bass lines, percussion, background vocals, and synths, all which can be found on the original recordings, but due to lack of separation these were nearly inaudible on the vinyl and CD releases. Listening to their discography in multi-channel is just like hearing them for the first time. I can’t say enough about how fantastic these 5.1 surround mixes are, both sonically and immersively, simply put they are demo worthy and fully encompass the listener. These DVD-A’s contain 96kHz / 24-bit LPCM 5.1 and 2.0 codecs, which are my preferred formats for both stereo and surround listening.
It is worth noting that the dual discs were also released as stand-alone discs in January 2006, most have long since been sold out, specifically Fear of Music. Of course, picking up a copy of the "Brick" box set is highly recommended. Now, in September 2022, each of these albums have been released in Dolby Atmos via streaming services. Once again these are at the top of the list, with brilliant immersive Atmos mixes. Sonics remain very good, and sound literally pops up from every corner, including the height channels, making these some of the best Atmos mixes I have heard to date. Now, spatial audio enthusiasts, like myself, can only hope for a Blu-ray edition to enjoy the uncompressed Atmos mixes!
Article updated September 19, 2022.
8 dual-disc DVD-Audio and CD's box set with 96kHz / 24-bit LPCM 5.1 and 2.0 codecs.