Remain in Light

Talking Heads

album cover

Not the Same as It Ever Was

The Talking Heads started out as purveyors of jerky, self-conscious minimalist rock unlike anything happening in New York punk in the 1970s. After a string of acclaimed albums, the band ended up trapped in an absurdist sideshow of its own making—with David Byrne, aka the guy in the big suit, spewing non sequiturs over tepid funk rhythms.

In between, beginning with "I Zimbra" (from 1979's Fear of Music) and continuing through this album and the next, the Talking Heads reigned as one of the most invigorating, intense, dauntingly original rock bands in the world. Remain in Light marks the moment when everything—from the big "vision" to the little details—falls into place. The key puzzle piece is rhythm: Before starting work on this monster, the foursome and producer Brian Eno set out to globalize typical foursquare rock grooves. They took what the band already did well—those sharp guitar spikes and pummeling up-and-down backbeats—and punched them up with elements of loose-limbed West African dance pop, up-tempo soul-revue sendups, and syncopations that cut across the music at unexpected angles.

Talk about an awakening. From the mystical opening notes of "Born Under Punches," it's clear that virtually everything about the Talking Heads' enterprise is different. Less spastic. More streamlined. Reborn as a groove machine with libido-enhancing powers, the rhythm section (drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth) kicks out a cryptic code that's reinforced by the intricate overlapping rhythm guitar circuits of Jerry Harrison and guest Adrian Belew. The pulse becomes so strong, it sweeps even the congenitally uptight Byrne into the dance. Through oblique, seemingly disconnected exclamations ("This is not my beautiful house!" "Facts are useless in an emergency!"), Byrne presents himself as the bewildered Everyman who no longer trusts his thinking, but isn't quite comfortable enough to surrender to the flow of the irrational rhythm. That mind-body conflict is typical of the juxtapositional genius of Remain in Light. These unexpectedly glorious tunes balance brains against instinct, pop hookcraft against ancient ritual, art concept against the primal urge to dance.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1980, Sire
Key Tracks: "Crosseyed and Painless," "The Great Curve," "Once in a Lifetime."
Catalog Choice: The Name of This Band Is the Talking Heads; Speaking in Tongues.
Next Stop: Beck: Odelay
After That: Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (see p. 725).
Book Pages: 760–761

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#1 from Adam Herbst, New Jersey - 04/04/2009 10:01

Fela could be a prequel.

#2 from J.D. Haight, Dallas, Texas - 04/15/2009 1:39

Agreed…the work IS genius.  So mote it be. ‘Nuf said.

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