Friday, May 11, 2018

Talking Heads 4: Remain In Light

By this time the other members of Talking Heads who weren’t David Byrne had every right to feel overlooked. Granted, as the “frontman” he got most of the attention, but that wasn’t to say he was the sole auteur of the band’s music. So when it came to their fourth album, they didn’t start with songs, but extended jams, wherein they’d find hooks to develop into songs, each member rotating on instruments as inspired.
Of course, any sense of democracy was out the window when Brian Eno got involved, who soon began dictating the direction of the sessions, with David Byrne as a willing conspirator. The two had already collaborated outside the Heads, and soon African rhythms and “found sounds” would interweave with the band’s interest in the growing hip-hop genre and other grooves, plus contributions from outside musicians, resulting in Remain In Light.
The word “groove” is important here, because—unlike their work released thus far—the music doesn’t generally fit into the traditional verse-chorus song structure. “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” is a clattery funk tune with typically nervous vocals, prominent harmonies from Eno, and what sounds like a video game where the solo should be. While it has a similar vocal approach, “Crosseyed And Painless” gets our approval due to its prominent guitar and straight rock sound, while “The Great Curve” is back to a frantic funk groove, with vocal chants in the back and Adrian Belew contributing advanced guitar synthesizer.
The one track that could be called a song, with verses and distinguishable choruses, is “Once In A Lifetime”, possibly their greatest track ever. The off-kilter bass, up against the other instruments, the keyboards actually approximating the sound of water, the goofy lyrics, the infectious hook, and the glorious organ chords before the closing fade; all collide into a classic tune, helped along by the video that was all over early MTV. “Houses In Motion” was a daring choice for the next single, but following the “spoken verse” section with sung chorus combo. Another prominent element are Jon Hassell’s trumpets, which don’t sound like them. “Seen And Not Seen” is also predominantly spoken, as well as spooky, tied to a beat that would soon ground the rhythm section’s work in Tom Tom Club, and presents a sound that would dominate arty new wave for the next few years. Similarly, “Listening Wind” predicts some of the textures The Police would use in a few years, a near-ambient backing with percussion and birdcalls on guitar. “The Overload” is the culmination of the creeping darkness, a slow, brooding track that purposely recalls Joy Division.
Remain In Light was hailed as a masterpiece of the new decade upon release, and has only piled up accolades since then. Again, if you like grooves as well as songs, it will resonate, but it doesn’t have the immediacy of Fear Of Music. If you’re looking for an album of songs just like “Once In A Lifetime”, you’ll also be disappointed. But fans (and Enophiles) should certainly seek out the expanded CD, which offers four “unfinished outtakes”, including rough drafts of “Lifetime” and “Born Under Punches”.

Talking Heads Remain In Light (1980)—
2006 CD reissue: same as 1980, plus 4 extra tracks

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