All of the Talking Heads have participated in extracurricular musical activities, and guitarist/keyboardist Harrison is no different — only less successful. (His platinum-packed production career, however, is an entirely different matter.) Recorded during the band’s 1981 sabbatical, The Red and the Black continues the pan-ethnic, cross-rhythmic musical explorations of Remain in Light — not a surprise, since many of the auxiliary Heads (like Adrian Belew, Bernie Worrell and Nona Hendryx) also appear on Harrison’s record. The results are fairly funky, albeit in a relaxed, slow-motion way.
A few years later, Harrison joined bassist Bootsy Collins in a hip-hop groove for the “5 Minutes” 12-inch, a found-sound dance record (in three mixes) that uses Reagan’s notorious “We begin bombing…” extemporization.
Harrison’s second album, Casual Gods, leads with its chin: the cover and inner sleeve photos show hordes of poor Brazilians working under horrendous conditions as goldminers. The music, however, is slick rock-funk with lyrics that are serious but not radical. Harrison, who’s not a bad singer (his voice sounds a bit like John Cale’s), doesn’t write songs so much as techno grooves with sketchy melodies; his accomplished cohorts play with chops but little feeling.
With the Heads on indefinite hiatus, Harrison threw himself into Walk on Water, earnestly creating a contrasting variety of finely crafted (if a bit clunky) songs: bottom-heavy, soul-tinged rock (“Flying Under Radar”), charming Headsy pop (“Never Let It Slip”), weird Cale-ish dissonance (“The Doctors Lie”) and a quiet lullaby (“Sleep Angel”), with a minor smattering of socio-political conscience (“I Cry for Iran,” “Cowboy’s Got to Go,” “Facing the Fire”). Collaborating with the Thompson Twins, Dan Hartman, Bernie Worrell, former Modern Lover bandmate bassist Ernie Brooks and others, Harrison still lacks the adequate musical inspiration and vocal character that would make Walk on Water a feat for the ears.