Making Sense of (and Predicting) the Talking Heads Tribute Album

Making Sense of (and Predicting) the Talking Heads Tribute Album

In the past six months, Talking Heads have been making more headlines than you'd expect for a band that's lain dormant for 33 years. Their all-time classic concert film Stop Making Sense returned to theaters last September for its 40th anniversary, which prompted the band's four core members to appear in public together for the first time since their Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction performance in 2002 (this time it was for a few interviews and Q&A sessions, not playing music). Some fans wondered aloud if this meant a full-on reunion tour was in the works, but just this Tuesday, Billboard reported that the band turned down an $80 million offer from Live Nation to play "six to eight festival gigs and headlining slots" in the coming year.

The very next day, the hottest film studio in the land announced a star-studded Talking Heads tribute album. A24, already responsible for the Stop Making Sense theatrical re-release, is dropping the compilation alongside a collector's edition Blu-ray of the film (no release date yet for the former; the latter's "expected to ship in May"). The announcement was accompanied by a very dutiful cover of "Burning Down The House" by Paramore, whose only embellishments on the party-starting anthem are Hayley Williams' odd commitment to bearing down on a lower-register growl and some busy tom-tom work that goes a scant 2% farther than that of the original version.

The other artists who will appear on the bumblingly titled Everyone's Getting Involved: A Stop Making Sense Tribute Album are: The National, Lorde, Toro y Moi, Kevin Abstract, the Linda Lindas, Miley Cyrus, BadBadNotGood, Teezo Touchdown, Blondshell, the Cavemen., Chicano Batman featuring Money Mark, DJ Tunez, El Mató a un Policía Motorizado, Girl in Red, and Jean Dawson. Ironically enough, this looks exactly like a FestivalCore undercard that Live Nation would book for a festival headlined by a Talking Heads reunion set.

Before I go any further, I have to level with you: historically, I've never loved or even really understood the appeal of tribute albums. Covers? Hell yeah! Covers albums? It might suck, but go for it! But a full album of songs by an artist I love performed by a motley collection of other artists, some of which I'm bound to be at least indifferent towards? It's a very hard thing to pull off.

My Dad, on the other hand, loves a tribute album. When I was growing up, his CD collection was littered with stuff like the I'm Not There soundtrack (Bob Dylan), Deadicated (Grateful Dead), Return of the Grievous Angel (Gram Parsons), and Enjoy Every Sandwich (Warren Zevon), all of which I have fond memories of ripping onto iTunes, flipping around the tracklists, and then deleting a few months later. Listen, just because I think Adam Sandler covering "Werewolves In London" is a novel proposition doesn't mean I want to hear Billy Bob Thornton rasping his way through "The Wind." Especially back in the era of the $14.99 new CD, that was a big ask for listeners.

Off the top of my head, the only tribute album I can remember admiring ("enjoying" feels too strong) is Day of the Dead, a marathon-length 3-disc tribute to the Grateful Dead by predominantly indie-rock-leaning artists. Unlike other formless hodgepodges, it had a statement that was, at least in 2016, a pretty hot take: "We're trendy bands and we like The Dead." I can't say I've ever listened to the entire thing, but a few of its high points have stuck with me, and above all I'm glad it exists.

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Talking Heads fan. They're one of the earliest bands I can remember my mom and dad playing around me, and my fandom has seldom wavered over the last 20+ years. I relished the opportunity to go see Stop Making Sense in a theater with my parents and fiancée last year.

I'm predisposed to dislike this Talking Heads tribute album—not out of an aghast "they'll butcher these songs!" type mentality—but because of my bias against the format and my lukewarm opinion of most of the artists included on it. But what if it was good? Given the information that's currently available about the album, I'm going to attempt to curate three versions of it: the funniest, best, and most likely ones. As of the time that I'm writing this (2:45pm ET on Thursday, February 1), we only know Paramore's aforementioned song selection, but we also have a 20-second snippet that A24 shared with the announcement.

That's one of the 15 remaining artists doing "Girlfriend Is Better," the song that contains the album/concert film's title in its lyrics. To me, it sounds like Lorde, but for the purpose of this exercise, I'm going to pretend that she's still a wild card.

There's a few artists in the tracklist that I know absolutely nothing about, so I'm going to respectfully leave them out of this. And one final note on methodology: I'm going to limit my choice of Talking Heads tracks to the 16 that are included in the film. There are 16 of them, and 16 artists, which seems to... make sense.


The National

Funniest: "Crosseyed And Painless"

I simply cannot picture this band moving this quickly and frantically. If they do cover this song but slow it down 50% and lower it by two octaves, I might jump out of my seventh-story window.

Best: "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)"

I don't want to hear Matt Berninger sing this, but then again I don't want to hear him sing any Talking Heads songs. The National are too morose and weighty for this album.

Most likely: "Once in a Lifetime"

This feels like the type of "big song" they'd want to tackle. Also, waking up disillusioned with your life and wondering, 'My god, what have I done?' is already the plot of 75% of The National's songs.


Funniest: "Swamp"

I just giggled to myself thinking about hearing this quasi-Tom Waits number sung in Lorde voice.

Best: "Heaven"

This would be such a great course-correction after the happy-go-lucky Solar Power. Let's get back to the moody shit!

Most likely: "Girlfriend Is Better"

Hey, I said I was going to pretend that it's not Lorde in the snippet, not that I'm actually going to believe that.

Toro y Moi

Funniest: "Psycho Killer"

Chaz, I love you, but you do not have the vocal gravitas to pull off this one.

Best: "Found A Job"

Funky enough to show off his funk chops, poppy enough to show off his pop chops.

Most likely: "Making Flippy Floppy"

As much as I'd like the former blend, there's not many others on the tracklist that can pull off funk at all, so I'll give him the funkiest song.

Kevin Abstract

Funniest: "Take Me to the River"

Just because I'm curious what this song would sound like if you smoothed out all of its rough edges.

Best: "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel"

Abstract is earnest; this song is the most earnest in the film. A natural fit!

Most likely: "Crosseyed And Painless"

Abstract has also proven himself to be ambitious to a fault. Again, I struggle to believe that anyone can do justice to "Crosseyed And Painless."

the Linda Lindas

Funniest: "Once in a Lifetime"

These kids are all still teenagers. The youngest is 13. "Once in a Lifetime" is explicitly a midlife crisis song. You do the math.

Best: "Genius of Love"

I'm not just making a cop-out "the girl group should sing the one song with lead female vocals" choice—I genuinely think they could nail this. There's a ton of schoolyard energy to "Genius of Love."

Most likely: "Genius of Love"

This is the one that I'm calling a lock.

Miley Cyrus

Funniest: "Life During Wartime"

Miley's a former stage kid so I could see her getting really into the verses about post-apocalyptic lifestyles.

Best: "Life During Wartime"

"This ain't no party, this ain't no disco" sounds SO much like a Miley lyric.

Most likely: "Life During Wartime"

I just think this would be a great pick for her. It's got energy, personality, and ample opportunities to belt.


Funniest: "Psycho Killer"

Giving the virtuosic smooth jazz quartet the simplest song of the bunch would be a great gag.

Best: "Slippery People"

Granted, they'd need a killer guest vocalist for this. But I can envision them slithering all over these tricky grooves.

Most likely: "Take Me to the River"

I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that they do an instrumental version of this classic. Unlike the Chicano Batman song, there's no guest vocalist credited, and I feel like "Take Me to the River" has a strong enough central melody to anchor a jazzy cover.

Teezo Touchdown

Funniest: Literally any song

What on Earth is this guy doing here?

Best: "What a Day That Was"

I guess I could kind of see him doing his aggro, pop-punk-tinged thing on this?

Most likely: "Psycho Killer"

Yeah, he's gonna want this one, isn't he?


Funniest: "Genius of Love"

If there's anyone who'd unironically flip this fun bop into a moody ballad, it's Blondshell.

Best: "Girlfriend is Better"

I know this is likely Lorde's track, but maybe it's just Blondshell doing kind of a Lorde vocal affect?

Most likely: "Heaven"

In both sound and subject matter, this feels the most up her alley.

Girl in Red

Funniest: "Making Flippy Floppy"

I just want to hear this woman say the words "flippy floppy." I think they'd sound funnier coming out of her mouth than any one else's on this list.

Best: "Once in a Lifetime"

Despite the fact that she's only 24, Girl in Red's songs are filled with enough turmoil that I think she could sell this one.

Most likely: "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"

If you're gonna give this to someone in Gen Z, it should be her.


Once the real tracklist drops, I'll post an update about how accurate my predictions were.

BOI (Best Of Inbox #16)

I'm more excited than usual about these 10 sections. Initially, I was overwhelmed by how many tracks I enjoyed and downloaded from my inbox this week, but that's a good problem to have, especially this early in the year. I ended up picking 10 artists I'd never listened to—or in many cases, heard of—before, and not entirely out of an explicit desire to do so.


Genre: chaos J-pop // RIYL: early BLACKPINK, IDK what else

In the words of the Tokyo four-piece themselves, their new single "combines playful and nostalgic lyrics from Japanese nursery rhymes with vibrant beats of Brazilian phonk." In my own words, "Toryanse" makes me want to burst out of a manhole in a crowded pedestrian intersection and then frisbee the manhole cover so far and so high that it splits the spire of the city's tallest building in half. I need more aggro-pop in my life.

Elsy Wameyo - "Sinner"

Genre: left-of-center hip hop/R&B // RIYL: A hypothetical FKA Twigs/Azealia Banks collab

The Nairobi-born, Adelaide-based Wameyo is a rapper/singer/producer, and on this song, it's impossible to say which one of those roles she excels at the most. "Sinner" has a tricky and hard-but-atmospheric beat, nimble and determined flow, and airy singing that brings everything together.

A Fish in the River - "Nature of the Wound"

Genre: doomy indie rock // RIYL: Greet Death, Cloakroom

AFitR is three former members of the great Portland band Holloway considerably darkening their sound. Their new album Forest God careens between grunge, doom, and punk influences with the grace of a band that's been doing this for years. I struggled to pick a standout here, but "Nature of the Wound" is my overall favorite because of a clear tunefulness that is maintained despite the song's heft and patience. Obligatory shoutout to the homie Emmet Martin for putting this out on their always-thrilling label Bud Tapes.

Frail Body - "Refrain"

Genre: blackened screamo // RIYL: Infant Island, Cloud Rat

This week I got promo emails with new music from two black metal bands that I already enjoy. I thought they were shoo-ins, but upon side-by-side listens, neither of the new songs were as invigorating as the latest from Frail Body, a band whose name I recognize but had never heard. Admittedly, the Rockford, Illinois band are more on the screamo side of things with their pained bloodletting, but this more than scratches the itch for anyone who's been captivated by the last decade-plus of moody American black metal. Artificial Bouquet is out 3/29.

Job for a Cowboy - "Beyond the Chemical Doorway"

Genre: proggy death metal // RIYL: fiercer Gojira, sillier Tomb Mold

This is why it pays to (almost) always click on things that initial turn me off. Job for a Cowboy: pretty cool band name, sure. But the album artwork for their upcoming Moon Healer? Patently ridiculous. Titling the opening track "Beyond the Chemical Doorway"? Sure buddy, I remember my first trip. But upon actually listening to the song? Go off, kings. This Glendale four-piece more than justify all of the psychedelic prog signifiers that initially had me itching to throw up red flags. "Beyond the Chemical Doorway" pulls off the balancing act that most bands working within this heady-but-unapologetic realm don't, as it jam-packs brilliant musicianship inside of a catchy four-minute burst. Moon Healer is out 2/23.

Joyer - "Star"

Genre: jangly indie rock // RIYL: a more bummed out Real Estate

Joyer is a duo comprised of brothers Nick and Shane Sullivan, and the press release for their new album says they come "from a similar scene as a lot of the bands in this current shoegazey moment." At least on latest single "Star," I don't hear a ton of the heavier sonics that the PR suggests, but that's in no way a problem. This one is a nicely wistful tune that makes use of the type of one acoustic/one electric guitar pairing that I feel like too many indie rock bands have gotten away from. Night Songs is out 4/26.

Mad About The Boy - "Protection"

Genre: doomy indie rock (again!) // RIYL: Greet Death (again!)

Both the A Fish in the River track listed earlier and this one remind me of one of my favorite modern indie bands, the Michigan doom-gazers Greet Death, but outside of that they have very little in common. Mad About The Boy's "Protection" is the moody, gothy opener of their recently released second album, Grim Task. It does an incredible job of building up throughout its runtime, with each of its two vocalists singing a verse apiece before harmonizing their way into a heavy conclusion.

TiaCorine - "Bonnet"

Genre: cloudy Southern rap // RIYL: Amber London, early JPEGmafia

TiaCorine is a North Carolina rapper who I've seen praised for the past few years, but never took the time to check out. "Bonnet" confirms that I'm late as hell. On this bouncy, atmospheric cut, she thrillingly switches flows about five times within the two minute runtime, each more thrilling than the last. It's taken from her just-released major label debut, the Almost There EP.

Tired Cossack - "Sardines"

Genre: weirdo country // RIYL: Sam Buck, Alex G

Writ large, the biggest weakness of music that I listen to in my inbox is that it's bland, a cheap imitation of an existing sound. Tired Cossack is anything but that! I Know, I Guess, the album from which "Sardines" is taken, isn't brand new, having been released in October, but the artist emailed it directly to me themselves this week, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Lucky me—it's a comfortingly weird slice of either left-of-center country, or alt-country-tinged bedroom pop, I'm not quite sure which.

Track of the Week

Myaap - "Get Shit Crackin"

Genre: Milwaukee pop-rap // RIYL: the HiDoraah and Dolly stuff from Young Thug's "Slime Language" tapes

I had a very tough time picking one standout this week, so I've got to provide the caveat that I chose this Myaap track mostly to highlight her entire new project, BIG MYAAP, NOT THE LIL ONE. This teenage Wisconsin rapper glides between styles with ease on the seven-track offering, easily handling tough-talk, pop melodies, and nimble flows without dimming a moxie that hops of the page with every line. "Get Shit Crackin" is probably the poppiest thing on the project—come for the hook, stay for the bars.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson