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Talking Heads - Remain In Light CD (album) cover


Talking Heads


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4.19 | 246 ratings

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4 stars I've never considered the New Wave and punk movements that entered the scene in the late 70s to be negative influences on rock music. Not in the least. That decade was all about diversity so those trends fit right in. (It's what the vile MTV virus would turn them into during the 80s that would forever taint their legacy.) While I was never a huge fan of many of their practitioners I did find the rebellious, non-conformist impetus they brought to the stage refreshing, especially when compared to the mind-numbing disco craze that the world at large couldn't seem to be able to get enough of. I wasn't much interested in the raw, bare-bones stuff the Ramones or the Sex Pistols were offering but adventurous groups like The Police and Elvis Costello's bunch were experimental enough to turn this progger's head from time to time. I also liked what I was hearing from Talking Heads. Their first three albums firmly established them as a creative force in popular music to be reckoned with but it was their close association with their envelope-pushing producer Brian Eno that truly set them apart from the bandwagon riders who came and went in the span of one or two LPs. Alas, with the change in decades came great upheavals in my personal life that diverted my attention from what was going on rock & roll and I lost touch with Talking Heads and many other artists/groups of their ilk. In other words, I missed out on what was contained in records like "Remain in Light" until recently when I finally got around to lending it an unbiased ear. It's quite impressive and supports my theory that the New Wave phenomenon might've become even more ground-breaking had the "let's make cute videos" disease not infected it.

They open with the solid "Born Under Punches" and immediately you're dropped into a very funky, polyrhythmic current that grooves underneath David Byrne's short, quirky vocal phrases and contrastingly smooth chorus lines. No doubt Eno had a big hand in developing Jerry Harrison's inventive synthesizer effects while the remarkable countermelodies manufacture a hypnotic aura that puts the listener in a trance. "Cross-eyed and Painless" is more along the lines of what I expected. David's exaggerated singing and the track's bratty motif are somewhat dated by now but the song avoids tedium due to the clever incidental sounds that zip in and out of the number. I didn't realize that these guys were on the cutting edge of using sampling and loop technology in their compositions but it's evident on "The Great Curve" that they weren't afraid to venture off the reservation into that realm. The tune's considerably more up-tempo pace is driven by its exploratory Latin and Afrobeat amalgamations that are presented without any electronic augmentations and it steams along like a locomotive. It's intimated that Adrian Belew contributed some of the guitar work to this album and I suspect it's his alarming solo that fries my brain cells (in a good way) on this cut. The multi-layering of the vocal patterns is exceptionally well-designed and tactfully mixed into the aural gumbo. "Once in a Lifetime" is the most recognizable song included and it deserves its notoriety. It's an incredibly unique and memorable tune that brilliantly utilizes lyrical alliteration to make a profound impact. While it's built upon the simplest of foundations it still magically avoids becoming monotonous and that's never easy to do with this type of song.

"Houses in Motion" sports a background pulse reminiscent of what Sly Stone had dabbled in seven years earlier on "Fresh" but failed to follow through on due to his debilitating addictions. Think David Bowie covering James Brown and you'll get the gist of what I'm babbling on about. The psychedelic trumpet ride is an other-worldly treat. "Seen and Not Seen" follows and it's kind of an Americanized version of the World Beat vibe Peter Gabriel had been heralding since leaving Genesis and going on his own. I love how they took unconventional rhythmic approaches and covertly blended them into the mainstream so the average Joe could thus be educated on its charms without realizing it. "Listening Wind" is another highlight of the proceedings. An Indian atmosphere permeates the mood of this number, differentiating it from the prior cuts. Byrne's flowing, river-of-consciousness lyrics and odd vocal lines are mantra-like at times while Belew's imaginative guitar work adds a palpable aura of exciting unpredictability. They close with "The Overload" wherein an eerie, cavernous drone envelopes the track and sets a macabre tone. If anything it shows that they had little interest in being "commercially viable." It also confirms that they were dedicated purveyors of soundscape constructions, following in the footsteps of prog scientists like Robert Fripp and others.

"Remain in Light" was released on October 8, 1980 and, despite its eclectic nature, climbed to #19 on the album charts. Talking Heads was continuing to flourish because the younger, up-and- coming generation that bridged the cusp between the 70s and 80s had inherited a decent respect for musicians who strove to avoid safe, pedestrian complacency and fearlessly went wherever their muse led them. In other words, prog had yet to become a dirty word in the industry. It was still evolving in ways that no one could've dreamed it would, mainly due to digital innovations and the unjaded attitudes of the participants toward what was possible, so don't lump Talking Heads in with some of the inane ensembles that infiltrated society via MTV a few years later and brought progressive thinking to a screeching halt. "Remain in Light" is a great listen that hasn't lost its curious yet alluring personality over the decades and deserves any progger's precious time. 3.8 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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