On 'Everyone’s Getting Involved,' Some Should Have Sat Out

BY Matthew TeklemariamPublished Jun 3, 2024


At a certain point, you stop wondering what was wrong with Talking Heads and start enjoying exactly that. Their appeal is multidimensional in both the clinical and fantastical sense, and that's by design. The ultra-urbanites boasted their array of influences with such demonstrative zeal that they could only be art students. With A24 now proudly touting the distribution rights to Stop Making Sense, they're also determined to make the most of freedom and of leisure with a double-stuffed tribute album that runs from lists A to Z on the star power chart. What better way to honour the barons of new wave eclecticism?

While it adheres to the same order as the setlist for Stop Making Sense, I'd say the new takes are based mostly on the studio recordings of the band's various indelible hits and hidden gems. Everyone's getting involved, but not just contractually; the album lets each artist fully digest each tune at their discretion, for better and for worse.  A tribute owes no duty to be faithful, but the best covers embody the spirit of their predecessors and sublimate rather than totally transform the material. You only get a little bit of that here.

Lead single "Burning Down the House" from personal darlings Paramore was a very convincing herald for the rest of the charge. Hayley Williams and the gang imbue perhaps the Heads' most affable hit with their patented blend of honeysuckle venom. Aside from possessing the purest set of pipes, Williams also holds most of the album's conviction in her vocals for this track alone. A calculated move, given "Burning Down the House" is being paraded worldwide as we speak to legions of feral Swifties.

Unfortunately Everyone's Getting Involved kicks off with Miley Cyrus's unfortunate rendition of "Psycho Killer." Cyrus wholly internalizes the song and egests something like a Plastic Hearts C-side, all modern popstar gloss and nothing tangible to offer. It's disappointing given Cyrus's usual penchant for covers of this era, perfectly suited to her Marlboro Red timbre and stage omniscience. Her live, countrified version has "Midnight Rambler" homestyle homicidal charm; shame they opted for something so inorganic on the official version.

Similarly, Kevin Abstract's "Once in a Lifetime" is awful, rendered impotent by Cudi-esque production and a self-absorbed lavender haze. It's barely rhythmic, making it a fundamental misunderstanding of the assignment and a total deflation of a music snob's gem. Probably should've called more of his buddies.

It's not all doom here, and a lot of the more minor tracks benefit from the reverence hoisted upon them by up-and-comers. Teezo Touchdown, who admitted to barely knowing the Heads' music until later in life, doesn't let his hip-hop background obfuscate the boundaries of taste on "Making Flippy Floppy." Byrne's spasmodic inflection is well-emulated, not imitated, along with some faithful instrumentation bordering on the sycophantic. The Linda Lindas stack up just fine with their frenetic energy on "Found a Job," even if they've mellowed with age. And one wonders if "Girlfriend Is Better" is more convincing when sung by a woman and injected with angular verve, courtesy of girl in red.

The National's "Heaven" is just fine (not even Talking Heads' most divine tune), and Blondshell tackles "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel" with eye-rolling literality. Then, cool cat Canucks BADBADNOTGOOD make "This Must Be the Place," featuring a miscast Norah Jones, the kind of impeccably performed facsimile that makes you wonder, why bother?

I mourn mostly the potential of two tracks that just barely make the grade: Toro y Moi and Brijean's "Genius of Love" and DJ Tunez' "Life During Wartime." The former retains the laissez-faire bubbliness inherent to Tom Tom Club (Mr. Byrne is gone, party time!) and their spontaneity to boot, yet stumbles in its near-future-pop rigidity. Recall that at even at their most anxious, Talking Heads were still libidinal. "Life During Wartime" does sounds good on sub-cognitive grounds and even comes fully formed, but it's just too languid in its Afrobeat approach for true distinction. It's hard to be cool when it's the burning that keeps you alive, after all.

Tracks not highlighted antecedent are non-factors, which regrettably includes Lorde's cover of Talking Heads' cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River." It's a compilation, but some unified vision here could've made this the auditory party of the summer; each track was conceived and produced in a soundproofed vacuum. The parable of Babel applies here: you can't make anything godly if you're speaking in different tongues. A24 Music presents a semi-amusing bauble (read: avaricious marketing manifest) carefully coated with indie pop sheen very far removed from Talking Heads' nervy bohemian musings. It doesn't get what works right about Talking Heads, or even begin to glimpse the intrigue of what feels so wrong.


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