"Not only is this a great album, it's also one of the definitive records of the decade."
Stephen Democrat in Rolling Stone.
"It is . . . one of the most amusing and serious rock albums ever, and as provocative a focal point for a discussion of rock as art as any that could be found."
John Rockwall in The New York Times.
Three guesses what album provoked such uninhibited acclaim. Give up? "Talking Heads: 77" (Sire, SR 6036), the debut of Talking Heads whose first area appearance is scheduled for Nov. 20 at the Bayou. Sorry, Beatles reunion fans.
And who are Talking Heads? Four Ivy Leaguers who made their reputation at New York's CBGB's, punk rock's answer to the Met. But Talking Heads are not punk rockers, no sirree. At least that's what everyone is saying when they're not falling all over themselves trying to top one another's superlatives.
It can be argued that both The Times and Rolling Stone write from a New York City perspective, which is to say different from the rest of the known universe. This is enforced by Rockwell's earlier attack on people who would lump all New York acts and then discard them (that in a review of Television's "Marquee Moon" - Elektra 7E-1098) and a recent spread in The Village Voice that included an eight-page defense of punk rock by Robert Christgau, who is usually quite sensitive to coming trends.
Except that this trend has already swept through New York so many times that it's no longer a trend but a fact; it's the rest of us who haven't quite seen the light of punk. Oh yes, we forgot, Talking Heads are not punk. That's what record company people say as soon as they realize that the term is not the salable commodity in Peoria that it is not the Big Apple. So we hear "art rock" or "urben rock." Or something.
There are two immediate reactions to hearing and reading such hoopla: 1. The album can't possibly be that good. 2. The album can't possibly be that bad. Both are right: "Talking Heads: 77" is interesting in an offbest way, but it hasn't yet changed anyone's life. Also, just to set the record straight, it really isn't punk.
Much the same superhype appeared last year when Graham Parker became the darling of the critics. Now Parker also has a new album, "Stick to Me" (Mercury SRM-1-3706), his third (fourth if you count the authorized bootleg "Live at the Marble Arch") but it has nearly been lost in the furor over Talking Heads. Since "Stick to Me" is generally weaker than his previous work, Parker may not gain mass recognition this time, either.
Far be it from me to equate art with sales. There is no question that many fine efforts never make a dent in the public taste and that total compromise to mass-appeal styles often results in a crippling somnambulism. Still, if no one but a gifted few can either enjoy or understand this music (perhaps it really is over - or under - our heads . . . well, ears) maybe it's only New York that is destined to experience the predicted cultural renaissance.
There's certainly more to rock than Fleetwood Mac, but it remains to be seen if Talking Heads is it.