This is the second live album that Talking Heads have released (the third, actually, if you count a to-the-trade-only 1979 LP). But while The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads was an ambitious attempt to sum up their career-long evolution from pop minimalists to preppie funkateers, Stop Making Sense assays a simpler task: to capture America’s best band — I said it, you didn’t — at their peak. Unlike the film of the same name, the album doesn’t follow the chronology of the concert, during which instruments were added one by one until the entire band was plugging away. Instead, what follows after a boom-box-and-acoustic-guitar rendition of “Psycho Killer” is an assortment of the more recent uptempo hits, delivered with the conviction and sheer joy that have enhanced the Heads’ remarkable body of work.
Tracks that appear on the band’s last LP, Speaking in Tongues, turn up on Stop Making Sense with a new vitality. The dazzling call-and-response between David Byrne and vocalists Ednah Holt and Lynn Mabry on “Slippery People” is highlighted by the rhythmic byplay between drummer Chris Frantz and wide-fingered percussionist Steve Scales. Even better are the simmering, stomping John Lee Hooker hoodoo of “Swamp” (“They gonna pray for that man,” growls Byrne) and the band’s biggest hit, “Burning Down the House,” played with the sort of uninhibited whoopee that’s become Talking Heads’ newest asset. “Once in a Lifetime” gets a curiously restrained treatment; the fur doesn’t fly as it did on Remain in Light. But the soaring joy of “What a Day That Was” (from The Catherine Wheel) is enchanting, and “Life during Wartime” sounds better than ever, with Bernie Worrell and Jerry Harrison delightedly whaling away at a fresh new keyboard hook. Stop Making Sense isn’t just a commercial time buyer or a movie tie-in disc; it’s a solid artistic statement from a band that’s starting to have as much fun as they’ve given their listeners.