Speaking in Tongues was another critical and commercial success for Talking Heads, with critics and fans alike considering it a worthy successor to Remain in Light. The album was also the band's highest-charting on the U.S. Billboard 200, peaking at number 15. Lead single "Burning Down the House", meanwhile, was the band's biggest commercial hit; peaking at number 9, it was their only single to reach the U.S. Billboard Top Ten. The tour conducted to support the album was also a massive critical and commercial success, being immortalized in the now-iconic concert film Stop Making Sense.
Speaking in Tongues produced three singles: "Burning Down the House", "Swamp" (released exclusively in the Netherlands, Australia, and South Africa), and "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)".
- "Burning Down the House" - 4:01
- "Making Flippy Floppy" - 5:54*
- "Girlfriend is Better" - 5:44*
- "Slippery People" - 5:05*
- "I Get Wild/Wild Gravity" - 5:15*
- "Swamp" - 5:12
- "Moon Rocks" - 5:44*
- "Pull Up the Roots" - 5:08
- "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" - 4:53
I'M! AN! OR! DI! NA! RY! TROPE! BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE:
- All There in the Manual: The back cover on CD releases contains a lengthy expository blurb detailing the creation process of the album.
- Bizarre Taste in Food: If the lyrics of "Moon Rocks" are to be taken literally, the narrator isn't one to shy away from eating the eponymous material.
- Breather Episode: "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)", which unusually for this trope is placed at the end of the album. In hindsight, it's significantly Lighter and Softer tone ends up foreshadowing the band's later direction.
- Broken Record: Done intentionally with the guitar and bass parts in "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)", which simply repeat one phrase ad infinitum throughout the song. According to David Byrne's commentary for Stop Making Sense, this choice was made simply because that manner of songwriting is considered somewhat taboo among professional musicians, making it the naïve melody that the song's subtitle refers to (though it's actually more of a counter-melody).
- Concept Video: The music video for "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" is partly one, depicting the band and session musicians watching home movies before performing in the basement, after which a housekeeping lady serves them some snacks.
- Cut-and-Paste Translation: The LP edit of "Girlfriend is Better" shortens the song's runtime by jumping from the first half of the first verse to the second half of the second verse, and not exactly seamlessly either. Curiously, the lyrics from the cut portion are still present in the liner notes, indicating that this was probably a last-minute edit compared to the more planned-out and seamless edits on the other four songs cut down on the LP release.
- Epic Rocking: The extended versions of "Making Flippy Floppy", "Girlfriend is Better", and "Moon Rocks" are just seconds shy from the six-minute mark.
- Funk: A prominent influence on the album, though in this case it's based more closely on African-American funk than Remain in Light's Afrobeat.
- In the Style of...: "Swamp" is a John Lee Hooker-esque blues piece.
- Lighter and Softer: While still retaining the anxious tone of Fear of Music and Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues is nowhere near as dour lyrically, instead opting to embrace the quirky side of David Byrne's personality. The grooves are also less dense and more danceable.
- New Sound Album: Sorta. While furthering Remain in Light's blend of Post-Punk/New Wave Music and Afrobeat, the album is poppier, less musically dense, and features greater use of synthesizer embellishments, somewhat evocative of the Minneapolis sound popularized by artists such as Prince. The blurb on the back of the CD case acknowledges these differences, summarizing them as follows:This album retains the fluidity, the rhythmic emphasis,the ethnic (predominantly African) influences, and some of the same guest musicians [as Remain in Light] ... but the essence is more compact and the basic tracks were worked out by fewer musicians.
- Non-Indicative Name: The "naïve melody" referred to in the title of "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" actually refers to the song's counter-melody.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The hooks for "Burning Down the House" indulge in this."I'M! AN! OR! DI! NA! RY! GUY!""THERE! HAS! GOT! TO! BE! A! WAY!""THREE! HUN! DRED! SIX! TY! FIVE! DE! GREES!"
- Rearrange the Song: The 2005 remastered release includes a remixed version of "Burning Down the House" as a bonus track; this particular remix places greater emphasis on 5.1 surround sound, with Gratuitous Panning to show off as much of the three added channels as possible.
- Re-Cut: Speaking in Tongues has two different versions: a 41-minute cut released on LP and a 47-minute cut released on cassette. The 47-minute version includes extended versions of the tracks "Making Flippy Floppy", "Girlfriend Is Better", "Slippery People", "I Get Wild/Wild Gravity" and "Moon Rocks", likely included over the LP edits to capitalize on the Compact Cassette's status in the public consciousness at the time as the medium for extended versions of albums due to its longer playing time compared to LPs. Peculiarly, despite having an even longer maximum playing time than cassettes, early CD releases of Speaking in Tongues used the 41-minute version of the album; pressings from 1990 onwards use the 47-minute version, as by then, the CD had become a more widely-accepted medium for extended versions of albums. Given that the added verses in the extended versions of "Making Flippy Floppy" and "Girlfriend is Better" were included in live performances (as documented in Stop Making Sense), fans generally consider the 47-minute version of Speaking in Tongues to be the definitive one.
- Silly Love Songs: David Byrne consciously sought to avert the "silly" part of this trope with "This Must Be the Place"."It's a real honest kind of love song. I don't think I've ever done a real love song before. Mine always had a sort of reservation, or a twist. I tried to write one that wasn't corny, that didn't sound stupid or lame the way many do. I think I succeeded; I was pretty happy with that."
- Speaking Simlish: "Swamp" opens with David Byrne muttering indistinctly into the microphone, causing this effect.
- Surprisingly Happy Ending: After eight anxious-sounding, lyrically offbeat tracks, the album closes out with "This Must Be the Place", a lighthearted, cozy-sounding love song.
- Surreal Music Video: "Burning Down the House", a hodge-podge of scenes featuring Talking Heads performing in an empty club (sometimes being replaced by child lookalikes), stock fire footage being projected onto the side of a house, David Byrne and his bandmates' faces being projected onto a blank screen, Byrne performing in front of a rear projection of various bits of footage kinda-sorta related to the lyrics, and finally Byrne's slack-jawed staring face being projected onto a highway from the back of a moving car. What. The. Hell.
- Take That!: "Making Flippy Floppy" includes a not-so-subtle jab at Ronald Reagan with the line, "Our president's crazy/Did you hear what he said?"
- Updated Re Release:
- CD releases of the album from 1990-onwards include the 47-minute version of the album that had previously been exclusive to cassette releases; prior CD releases used the same 41-minute master as the LP release.
- The 2005 remastered version includes the outtake "Two Note Swivel" and a 5.1 surround sound-oriented remix of "Burning Down the House" as bonus tracks.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Done intentionally on "Burning Down the House"; David Byrne didn't really care whether or not the lyrics made sense, and simply put in loosely-connected phrases that fit the rhythm of the song.