The Suburbs: ‘Speaking in Tongues’

One of two tracks added to the deluxe edition of The Suburbs, Speaking in Tongues may have even less analyzable material than the mostly-empty Empty Room.



Hypocrite reader, my double, my brother
Your daddy really took it outta you
Until you’re speaking in tongues

That first line isn’t just something that sounds cool to sing, it’s also just about the only link this song makes to the larger vision of The Suburbs. Because, you see, Butler has lifted this originally-French lyric (“You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frere!”) from Mr. T.S. Eliot’s masterwork The Waste Land (line 76).
It’s for that reason that I place this track here after Wasted Hours, with its apt description of “endless suburbs stretched out thin and dead”—which sure sounds like a wasteland to me. Sadly, that’s about all there is to say about this song. With the title phrase’s religious connotations, I would almost think this song to be a better fit on Neon Bible, but sadly there’s still not enough material to link it to that album either.

Sneaking out the windows now
You got the spirit now!

If I had to make a stretch, I could equate sneaking out the window in this song with the oppressed youth of Half Light I, torn from their safe beds by the call of the Wild Night (“We are not asleep, we are on the streets”).

Hypocrite reader my double, my brother
Where did we lose our way?
It’s like we’re speaking in tongues

Hypocrite reader, my double, my brother
Now I can’t understand the words
Now you’re speaking in tongues

Come out of your head and into my world now

Speaking in tongues…

In the song’s last section, we hear from everybody’s favorite floorlamp-dancer, David Byrne:

On the tracklist, this song is “Speaking in Tongues (featuring David Byrne)”, but Featuring is a rather strong word, as he seems to contribute little more than a few “ahh-hhaa’s”. I think his appearance here functions mostly as some serious meta-referencing (Speaking in Tongues being Byrne’s band Talking Heads’ breakthrough 1983 album). Generally speaking in the last thirty years or so, the term ‘Art Rock’ has been synonymous in most people’s minds with Talking Heads.  With his involvement in this song, however, I think Byrne has passed the mantle of Preeminent Art Rock Group to worthy recipients Arcade Fire.

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