TALKING HEADS – ” Remain In Light ” Released 10th October Classic Albums

Posted: May 23, 2022 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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“This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!” Talking Heads ‘Remain in Light.’ released on 10/8/80, The Talking Heads released their fourth studio album and arguably their strongest and most influential full length – “Remain in Light”. This time the band, along with producer Brian Eno, decided to experiment with African polyrhythms and recorded the instrumental tracks as a series of samples and loops. Additional musicians were frequently used throughout the studio sessions. The album spawned two singles – “Once in a Lifetime” and “Houses in Motion” but its other compositions such as as the 1-3 opening sequence of “Born Under Punches, “Crosseyed and Painless” and “The Great Curve” that really makes for “Remain in Light” as such a must hear album. Watch The Talking Heads perform “The Great Curve” live in Dortmund from 1980.

The seeds of Talking Heads‘ landmark “Remain in Light” album were planted on the band’s previous record, 1979’s “Fear of Music”. But the year away from the studio, plus a change of locale for basic recording, made a world of difference in the end. Talking Heads went into their fourth album with the intention of proving once and for all that they were a band; they emerged as a different entity, continuing on this same path for the rest of their too-brief career.
Following the release of “Fear of Music” in August 1979 – their most successful album yet in a two-year span that was continually yielding bigger sales figures and more fans – Talking Heads were, more and more as time went on, hearing that David Byrne was essentially a gifted but eccentric frontman taking charge of the three other musicians who happened to play on his records. The band, with producer Brian Eno on board, set out to prove that they were four singular minds driving toward one shared purpose.

So, they tightened up. They got funky. They set up shop in Nassau. They surrounded “Remain in Light‘s” eight songs with a worldly blend of global pop, post-punk, American R&B and artsy experimentalism augmented by a handful of session players on horns and percussion. And they played around with loops and samples, still mostly unheard of at the time, which gave the album the otherworldly feeling that the entire project was shipped in from another time and place, nowhere near the end-of-the-century New York City that the group had come to identify with so closely.
But it’s not such a dramatic leap that the dots can’t be connected between “Fear of Music” and “Remain in Light”. In fact, “I Zimbra,” from the former, was a launching point for the latter, with the band members jamming on the song, seeing where it would take them. Along with Byrne’s recent collaborations with Eno, which would be released in 1981 as “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”, it served as both an expansion to the group’s previous work and an opening to a brave new world.

Inspired by Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, the music on “Remain in Light” took on a more jam-based and fluid approach. Hip-hop, which began creeping into NYC culture at the time, also left its mark, as the eight tracks shifted, twisted and transformed into new shapes at every turn. As influential as it was revolutionary, the LP charted new musical territory for anyone interested in the sound of a dozen genres colliding and then coming together.
From the opening “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” featuring a particularly elastic bass line by Tina Weymouth, and the frenetic “Crosseyed and Painless” to “Once in a Lifetime,” which received tons of MTV airplay at the time, and the New-Wave-meets-world-music “Houses in Motion,” “Remain in Light” unfolds as a singular piece of pop music on an entirely different plain. No other record released in 1980 sounded like it; all these years later, artists are still trying to catch up.
Lyrically, the album drifted into original territory too, with Byrne combing a mix of his existential, stream-of-conscious and art-school playbooks to come up with a work that defied expectation and circumvented explanation. As he sings on “Once in a Lifetime,” “You may ask yourself, How did I get here?” There’s no easy answer, but the album changed Talking Heads forever.
The album set up the group for its breakthrough with its next LP, 1983’s “Speaking in Tongues”, which included Talking Heads’ only Top 10 hit “Burning Down the House.” That then spawned a popular tour that was later documented in the movie and album “Stop Making Sense”. The musical ideas laid out on “Remain in Light” provided the foundation for Talking Heads’ crisscrossing into other genres (including Americana and straightforward rock ‘n’ roll) before leadership issues which were never smoothed over — led to their breakup in 1991.

On their first three albums, Talking Heads made anxious, self-aware art-punk with enough pop appeal to offset the oddness. Led by yelping frontman David Byrne, whose exaggerated normal-guy persona signalled a profound discomfort with the modern world, the onetime CBGB regulars were weirdoes working within the confines of classic rock. Their music wasn’t for everyone, but by 1979, they’d notched a couple of minor hits and edged toward the mainstream.

With their landmark fourth album, “Remain In Light” Talking Heads changed everything and nothing all at once. Produced by Brian Eno, who’d helmed the group’s previous two LPs, it was something truly rare: a radical departure that nevertheless felt like a continuation of and improvement on everything that had come before.

“Remain In Light” was born at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, where Byrne and his bandmates — keyboardist Jerry Harrison and the husband-and-wife drum-and-bass team of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth — arrived song-less and ready to jam. This communal approach was a curious, given that Byrne had typically brought in nearly finished compositions and that he’d recently hinted he might be done with the group.

His most recent project had been the Eno collaboration “My Life In the Bush of Ghosts”, an experimental album heavily influenced by African sounds. That music found its way into the improvisational new Talking Heads tracks, though the extent to which the group was consciously trying to make an African-inspired record remains a point of debate. Byrne went so far as to include a bibliography of books on African art and culture with press releases for the album; Frantz and Weymouth have since downplayed the overt influence of African music.

Remain In Light” doesn’t sound much like the three Talking Heads records that came before and it doesn’t sound anything like other post-punk or New Wave albums released circa 1980. It’s heavy on single-chord polyrhythmic jams, light on traditional pop structures or hooks. Eno constructed the tracks by looping rhythmic sections and layering instrumentation — a method that initially left Byrne unsure of how or what to sing.

Inspired by Southern preachers, the Watergate tapes and some of those heady African texts he’d studied with Eno, Byrne wrote and recorded most of his lyrics after the group had returned from the Bahamas. His words have a freeform, impressionistic, cut-and-paste quality, but even so, “Remain In Light” is a record with very recognizable — and very Talking Heads — themes of alienation and the search for identity. Byrne’s every bit as perplexed, frightened and amused by the world as he was on the 1979 apocalyptic funk workout “Life During Wartime.” He’s taking his anxieties on holiday — not giving them the day off.

Byrne’s vocals weren’t the only overdubs. There were horns, extra percussion bits, female background vocals and stunning synth-treated solos from avant-garde guitar hero Adrian Belew, who’d played with the likes of Frank Zappa and King Crimson. When the band hit the road to promote the album, Belew joined the expanded line-up needed to recreate the crazy clatter in a concert setting.

Adrian Belew remembers on how not to join a Famous Band. – in 1980 I received a call asking me to come to New York City to rehearse for four days in order to learn the Talking Heads record “Remain In Light” only months before I had recorded the record all in one day with the Heads and Brian Eno. Talking Heads had the idea to expand their normal quartet to a thumping funky 10-piece band with two bass players, two keyboard players, two guitar players, two female back-up singers, one drummer and one percussionist. and we were going to learn the very layered studio monster “Remain In Light” in four days and then play two shows! somehow we did it, we learned the record and several songs from other records. But just barely. and just in time to board a plane for our first show in Toronto. Only then did we see the whole enchilada, our first show was a festival of 70,000 people! they flew us to the vast backstage area in helicopters. looking down at the sea of tiny flesh baffles, I was nervous enough to jump out in mid-air. it seemed like all the hip bands of the moment were present. the B-52’s, the Pretenders, Elvis Costello, the Clash. it was called the heatwave festival, billed as the first “new wave” festival, and was actually in a place called Mosport park.
Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe played. the Pretenders played. the B 52’s played. minutes before we were set to play I opened the door to our backstage trailer to discover most of the band snorting lines of coke from the backs of guitars. they quickly shooed me away, knowing I didn’t partake.
The timing of our performance was fortuitous; just as the sun was setting. I joined the original four Heads to play “Psycho Killer”, then the full band was brought onstage. we launched right into the new material. no one in the audience even knew the “Remain In Light” record as yet but it didn’t matter, the band was smoking! halfway through our set we played a song from “Fear of Music” called “I Zimbra” on the recorded version David had played a fast running guitar line. as soon as we started that song I could tell the coke had kicked in. we played it twice as fast as it was on the record! my fingers had a hard time keeping up and I was worried our 45-minute set might be over in 20. but it all worked out. the band was an instant success.
For our second show we played in Central Park but only 125,000 people showed up! at the time you couldn’t go into a bookstore, bar, record shop, or restaurant without hearing Talking Heads music in the background. It was an exciting time to be in the band. David, Chris, Tina, and Jerry decided to keep the 10-piece funk machine rolling for a whole world tour including Japan and then Europe. it was a wacky cast of characters to live with and we had loads of fun.

The lead single, “Once In a Lifetime,” missed the Hot 100 chart memorable video that became an MTV staple the following year.

The track-by-track take of this, the most strangely brilliant album from a band that did strange and brilliant better than anyone.

“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”: Within seconds, the Heads establish the wonky world they’ll explore for much of the next 40 minutes. It’s vibrant and alive yet weirdly claustrophobic: a paradise for paranoids. Amid skittering beats, belching bass and guitars that caw like tropical birds and scamper like ants on discarded mangos, Byrne plays a spiritually suffocating “government man” who just wants to breathe easy. Good luck with that one.

“Crosseyed and Painless”: More alienation set to alien grooves, this time with rougher rock guitars and a broader sense of unease. “Lost my shape,” Byrne sings at the outset, before deciding that shapes — and really facts of any kind — are inherently meaningless. As Byrne unravels, Frantz and Weymouth unspool insistently frazzled funk, making madness seem rather fun.

“The Great Curve”: Probably the most African-inspired track, both in terms of music and lyrics, this pulsing six-minute polyrhythmic free-for-all shifts the focus from freaked-out Byrne to some divine female figure (maybe a stand-in for all women) who’s “gonna open our eyes up.” It’s breathless and hopeful, complete with Belew guitar solos that shriek like people dying to come out of the dark.

“Once In a Lifetime”: Props to Eno and Harrison: The keyboards really do evoke floating as Byrne thinks about all that water bubbling down below our cars and houses and meaningless little lives. Some hear the song as a rant against ‘80s materialism, but Byrne has said it’s more about switching off autopilot and taking stock of how we get to where we end up. It’s man beating a drum and looking for answers he won’t find — same as it ever was.

“Houses In Motion”: If “Once In a Lifetime” is ambivalent about whether life is worth living, this chilly, plodding track paints a darker picture. The creepy-crawly rhythm that lit such a fire on “Born Under Punches” has slowed way down and Byrne is back to being a put-upon modern man forced to trudge sockless through a world where even that saviour lady from “The Great Curve” has “closed her eyes.” Those distorted horns laid down by frequent Eno collaborator Jon Hassell suggest not the grand trumpets of the apocalypse, but rather the sounds of elephants poised to stamp you dead without even realizing it.

“Seen and Not Seen”: Another slow jam, this sparse, wobbly, spoken-word gem finds Byrne ditching all the preacher-man affects and talking like a regular guy. Over a stomp-clap rhythm reminiscent of early hip-hop, Byrne calmly tells the story of a guy who wants to change his face — either to match his true personality or to better represent the personality he’s always wished he had. The guy’s not sure and Byrne’s not judging. We’ve all been there.

“Listening Wind”: Startlingly minimalist, this tale of a Third World terrorist prepping a mail bomb for one of the Americans who’ve muscled into his country marks a sharp turn from personal politics to global politics. The synths evoke both natural sounds and the digital blipping of Mojique’s device and Byrne again takes a non-judgmental, sympathetic tone. As a prescient commentary on the consequences of American foreign policy, “Listening Wind” suggests Talking Heads weren’t embarking naively on their quasi-African adventure.

“The Overload”: Talking Heads go goth with this bleak six-minute unhappy ending. The trudge of “Houses In Motion” is now a muddy, hopeless slog. Harrison’s keyboards sputter like machine guns or jeep motors and there’s a sense the band is performing in some burned-out future earth, using the last dregs of electricity to power its instruments.

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