Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17: Talking Heads, "Remain In Light"

Artist: Talking Heads
Album: Remain In Light
Year: 1980
Label: Sire

As the 1980’s began, the avant and punk rock movements continued to expand in every conceivable direction. The hotbed of these experimentations in music were NYC clubs The Mud Club and, of course, CBGB’s. Artists from The Ramones to Patti Smith to Blondie all honed their chops live on stage, night after night. While few of the bands had similar sound, some were so “out there” that they have a genre all to their own. What is now called “math rock” or “nerd rock” dates back to the originators; Talking Heads. Their 1980 masterpiece Remain In Light is a flawless their brilliance in both innovation, as well as musicianship.

Easily one of the most consistently innovative bands in history, Talking Heads represent everything that was amazing at the "artsy" punk movement. A majority of the band members met as students at the Rhode Island Institute of Design and they played their first live show at CBGB's in 1975...opening for The Ramones. On their forth studio release in as many years, Remain In Light finds the band delving deep into the influence of AfroBeat music, and production led by Brian Eno (Roxy Music, Eno/Cale) helped to keep the band pressing into new territory. Remain In Light also clearly marks the "end" of an era for Talking Heads. Their next album would be nearly three years later, and subsequent albums steadily declined musically, leading to the end of the band.

Constantly changing, poly-rhythmic beats are the core of the music of the Talking Heads. Strong influence from AfroBeat as well as the inconsistent nature of punk both help to mold their sound. One of the more interesting aspects is that, although not in the traditional sense, the music on Remain In Light is increasingly funky. Without using too much bass-work, the songs contain deep grooves made from unorthodox musical methods. The rise of the synthesizer also played a key role in forming the music as many "odd" noises fill in the gaps in the music. A full horn section, strange distortion on the guitars, and a host of other new ideas truly make Remain In Light sound like no other album ever made, even by Talking Heads standards.

David Byrne will reign forever as one of the most unique vocal talents to ever find a recording booth. Though he is perfectly capable of singing gorgeous melodies, an overwhelming majority of the time, he chooses to deliver his lyrics in a choppy, spoken manner. Though on Remain In Light, the lyrics have less meaning than on their previous efforts, the style in which they are delivered as still as essential to the music as ever. Though it flopped upon release, the single "Once In A Lifetime" features one of Bryne's most simple, yet brilliant lyrics in the line, "...and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" On this song in particular, Byrne sounds lost, and perhaps a bit uncomfortable in the music, and this can be seen as one of the earliest signs of the end of this amazing band.

Talking Heads were one of the smartest and ingenious bands in the history of music. Constantly perusing new sounds and styles, their music is, if nothing less, amazingly original. With more of an underground following than a popular one, the band has achieved "cult" status since their first releases in the late 1970's. Pushing the lyrics to the back burner and turning up the level of experimentation, Talking Heads created their finest record with 1980's Remain In Light. The combination of funk, AfroBeat, and the general quest for invention that defined Talking Heads makes this album well beyond brilliant and everyone should own and love Remain In Light.

"Standout tracks: "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)," “Crosseyed & Painless,” andHouses In Motion."

1 comment:

Rockandrollguru said...

Moondance is undoubtedly one of the greatest albums ever! This is Van at his absolute best, and "Into the Mystic" is as good a song as there is.