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25 Years Ago: Talking Heads’ Final Album Released

Talking Heads Naked
Sire Records

In a way, Talking Heads’ eighth and final album, ‘Naked,’ was a reaction to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland,’ which introduced world music to mainstream audiences in 1986. Then again, Talking Heads got there before Simon, incorporating African rhythms into their songs way back in 1980’s landmark ‘Remain in Light.’ But after 1983’s ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ which featured similar world-music junctures, and the massive world tour that followed, the group began scaling back.

But they knew the end was near when they started work on ‘Naked’ in a Paris studio in 1987. So after two albums of stripped-down Americana Talking Heads-style, the band once again expanded its scope, no doubt spurred by Simon’s success. ‘Naked’ was big, explosive and filled with the polyrhythmic shuffles and sway that made ‘Graceland’ a worldwide hit. The band even included dozens of backing musicians, who supplied various horns, percussion and keyboards to the record.

In that sense, ‘Naked’ finds new inspiration in ‘Graceland.’ But there are also notes of finality in its grooves. It’s a sad, mournful album at times, filling in the blanks with thoughts on mortality and end-of-days philosophizing. Songs like ‘Blind’ and ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’ split the difference between ‘Remain in Light’ and 1985’s ‘Little Creatures’: jagged stabs at ethnic music played by sharp, cynical New Yorkers.

‘Naked’ is one of Talking Heads’ best-sounding albums, a full banquet of sounds provided by co-producer Steve Lillywhite and guests like former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and Lillywhite’s wife, British singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl. The album reached No. 19, a better showing than the band’s previous two LPs, going gold, and ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’ received some airplay. But the band broke up shortly after its release, officially announcing the news three years later, just as the elastic ‘Naked’ outtake ‘Sax and Violins’ surfaced on soundtrack and compilation albums. It was later added to ‘Naked’ reissues, a fitting end to an album and career.

Next: Top 10 Talking Heads Songs

Watch Talking Heads’ Video for ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’

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