Review: “Everyone’s Getting Involved: A Tribute to Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense”

For 40 years the back-to-back bangers and big suit silliness of “Stop Making Sense”, has dazzled contemporary and new fans of Talking Heads alike. To mark the re-release of Jonathan Demme’s cult concert film of the same name and the 40th anniversary of the accompanying soundtrack album, A24 Music has assembled a diverse group of artists to reinterpret the original 16-song tracklist and to create the “Everyone’s Getting Involved: A Tribute to Talking Heads‘ Stop Making Sense” compilation. Contributors span from mega pop stars Miley Cyrus and Lorde, Afrobeats artist DJ Tunez, Nigerian highlife fusion duo The Cavemen., and longtime indie sad dads The National. “Everyone’s Getting Involved…” reimagines Stop Making Sense in popular music and culture, with an emphasis on the cross-generational and stylistic range. 

The first release from “Everyone’s Getting Involved…” was Paramore’s rendition of ‘Burning Down The House’, which keeps the music almost identical to the funky original, but sees Hayley Williams’ strong, raw vocals elevate it from a straight-up cover. The bubbling confidence, edginess and don’t-give-a-fuck attitude that comes from Paramore’s 20-year career span, shines through on this version and puts the listener at total ease. Paramore’s sense of playfulness and fun is evident in the song itself and the accompanying visuals, where Williams dons the Big Suit™ for the LP teaser and Paramore’s music video of the band recording their cover. It’s easy to see why David Byrne wanted to repay the favour and cover Paramore’s song ‘Hard Times’. 

Like the strengths of Paramore’s reinterpretation, the more successful re-imaginings on the compilation are those that have been approached with a confidence and openness to stray away from Talking Heads’ original versions. One of the first tracks to do this is Blondshell’s version of ‘Thank You For Sending Me An Angel’, which moves away from the original’s punchy drums and signature yelping vocals to a stripped back cover with slow, lullaby-esque vocals backed by atmospheric grungy guitars. The music builds up to a full-bodied jam, before slinking back to just guitar to close, providing a feeling of freshness alongside comforting familiarity. When Byrne yelped “show me what you can do”,Blondshell responded by rolling up her sleeves and showing us. Blondshell and A24, thank you for sending me an angelic cover. 

Another stripped back reinvention comes in the form of ‘Swamp’ by Jean Dawson, whose lush strings, acoustic guitar and lilting, country-inspired vocals are a vast departure from the pouty synths and characterful gibberish delivered by Byrne and co. The haunting, chant-like backing vocals of ‘hiiii’ under Jean Dawson’s lead vocal build like a creeping fog before the track abruptly ends, immediately making you want to dive back in for a relisten. The menacing atmosphere that Jean Dawson builds on this track wouldn’t be out of place as a “True Detective” theme song, soundtracking an overworked detective driving across a barren landscape, while the goosebumps prickle your arms. 

The triumphant country-twang of Jean Dawson’s reimagining (it’s not surprising to learn that he did some of the arrangements on “Cowboy Carter”) potentially highlights, why Miley Cyrus’ opening album track, ‘Psycho Killer’, falls flat. As a pop megastar who dabbles across genres of rock and country, it was difficult to predict where Cyrus would take her cover. At an intimate performance at the Chateau Marmont earlier this year, Cyrus performed an acoustic country-infused ‘Psycho Killer’ rendition that showcased her rich, raspy vocals. The acoustic guitar gave a nod to Byrne’s solo opening of Stop Making Sense, while Cyrus’ recognisable deep vocals drove a compelling interpretation. Unfortunately, this country-leaning cover is not what got included on “Everyone’s Getting Involved…”. Instead, the album offers a thumping dance-pop track that feels like Lady Gaga trapped in a haunted house fairground ride. The country genre is currently undergoing a mainstream revival, but a properly recorded version of Cyrus’ acoustic rendition would have likely endured beyond the genre’s current popularity and held more long-term listening appeal than the dance track included on the album. 

Some of the more distinct reimaginings on the record not only switch up the musical interpretation, but also chop and change lyrics from Talking Heads’ original songs. This can be seen in girl in reds version of ‘Girlfriend Is Better’. Throughout her rendition, girl in red shuffles Byrne’s lyrics around like a jigsaw puzzle, while keeping the disco/funk feel of the original. The only real complaint is that the 20-second-long outro is crying out for an extended cut that would double the 3-minute-long interpretation into a sprawling dancefloor filler.  

Likewise, Kevin Abstract offers up a short and sweet shapeshifting rendition of ‘Once In A Lifetime’, which floats between snappy electronic drumbeats, autotuned vocal effects and expansive cut aways. Kevin Abstract confidently chops and changes Byrne’s lyrics to adapt individual lines as well as cutting out large chunks altogether, leaving the track less than half the length of the original. It could be viewed as symbolic that in vastly changing the lyrics, Abstract has omitted every utterance of ‘same as it ever was’ from his version. In not treating the iconic source material as sacrosanct, this track will likely split Talking Heads fans, but you have to respect the boldness of this reimagining in comparison to some of the safer covers on the record.

After all, Talking Heads are no strangers to tackling ambitious cover versions themselves, having re-envisioned Al Green’s ‘Take Me to the River’ as part of Stop Making Sense. On “Everyone’s Getting Involved…”, we experience a cover inception as Lorde covers Talking Heads covering Al Green. Keeping a chunky, deep bassline that reflects Tina Weymouth’s playing, Lorde swaps Byrne’s crazed preacher persona and the gospel-like backing vocals for breathy vocals and twinkling spaceship-esque synths. Byrne once described Al Green’s original as “a song that combines teenage lust with baptism”, and Lorde’s sultry delivery of the line “hug me, squeeze me, love me, tease me” carries this sensual torch forward, her rendition sweeping you up in its warm, inviting current while also requiring a cold plunge afterwards. 

The bolder reinterpretations on “Everyone’s Getting Involved…” are the triumphs of the record. Not only because they embody the creativity of Talking Heads, but because they discourage the listener from drawing more clean-cut comparisons with the original tracks – something which can leave the listener feeling short-changed. With such well-known and well-loved reference songs to cover, it’s easy to understand that some contributing artists may have been daunted by approaching the tracks with completely new perspectives. In addition to this, Chicano Batman said in an interview with Billboard News that they only had four days’ notice to learn by ear and record their version. Although it’s uncertain whether this timeline was imposed on all the artists featured on the album, it could explain, why some tracks are closer to the original songs, as time limitations may have hindered more experimental re-imaginings.  

Regardless of which tracks you gravitate towards on this record, “Everyone’s Getting Involved…” is an eclectic vehicle for Talking Heads to be introduced to a new generation of fans (riot grrrl contributors The Linda Lindas themselves span the ages of 13 to 19 years old!), as well as introducing existing Talking Heads fans to new artists. We can all agree that Talking Heads are inimitable, but there is room within the band’s legacy for newer artists to successfully bring their own creativity and viewpoints to this compilation. Afterall, one of the benefits of wearing a gigantic suit is that anyone can slip it on and mould it to their own style and personality.

„Everyone’s Getting Involved: A Tribute to Talking Heads‘ Stop Making Sense“ is now out on all streaming platforms. The vinyl version can be pre-ordered here.