Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review of The Go-Go's' "Talk Show"

I posted this on the Sputnik Music website earlier today.

Let me start by saying that Talk Show is my favorite album of the '80s. I know, for most people, it's not even their favorite Go-Go's album - 1981's Beauty and the Beat is by far their best-selling album, and even the relatively disappointing Vacation charted higher. But I consider Talk Show to be an underappreciated jewel, and I also consider it an album that in many ways is a perfect standard bearer for the decade.

For me, the '80s was about getting back to basics. After a decade that began with increasing complexity in rock music, complete with concept albums, rock operas and various fusions of rock with jazz and/or classical music, followed by the punk rock movement towards simplified songs and the DIY ethic at the end of the decade, much of the '80s was about bringing pop music and melodic hooks back to rock.

The Go-Go's were emblematic of many '80s bands. Much like Blondie before them, they blended punk and pop together to create a sound that was edgier than pop but more melodic than punk. The fact that they were an all-female band and the first of their kind to write their own songs, play their own instruments and reach number one on the Billboard album charts (and number two on the Billboard singles charts) adds to their historical significance.

Talk Show was the band's third studio album (they only ever made four), and artistically, if not financially, I think it was the high point in their career. 

How do I describe what I love about the album? Should I talk about Belinda Carlisle's throaty vocals? The driving rhythms? The strong vocal harmonies? All of these are important, but in the end, I think it's mostly about the songs. There are definite highlights here, but there's also a consistency of quality throughout that I think was lacking in the first two albums.

"Head Over Heels" is the standout. It starts the album out on an exciting note, as a burst of initial double piano notes is suddenly joined first by the full band and then by Carlisle, as she breathlessly sings "Been running so long/I've nearly lost all track of time." It's a strong opening number for an album, and not surprisingly it went on to frequently become the opening number for the band's live show as well.

Other highlights of Talk Show include the Jane Wiedlin-penned "Forget That Day", a classic love-gone-wrong song that ended Side One on the original vinyl release, "I'm With You", a slower number that highlights Carlisle's husky voice, and "Turn to You," another fast, rocky number that contains one of my favorite lyrics on the album, as the singer complains to her would-be lover "You think falling in love/Means falling to ruin."

I can't make the case that Talk Show is a complicated album - it's not. It takes a relatively simple style of music and just does it really well. We're talking 10 songs worth of delightful '80s pop punk that will as likely as not put a smile on your face. And for me, that's a pretty good thing.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars