INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Creem JANUARY 1981 - by Mitchell Cohen
PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC WHITE BOY
"The world moves on a woman's hips / The world moves and it swivels and bops"
Whew, that's a relief. You see the title The Great Curve on a Talking Heads LP and there's the suspicion that the song is probably about a metaphysical equator or something. You know David Byrne and Brian Eno: real cards. The Leopold and Loeb of fascinatin' rhythms, not likely to break into bop-shoo-wops at a moment's notice. But Remain In Light, their calculatedly hypnotic examination of white rock's burden, is cerebral body music, the weirdest soulfinger on earth. The second side is more ambient than apocalyptic, but side one's trilogy - Born Under Punches, Crosseyed And Painless and The Great Curve - is an upbeat burst of absurdist funk, with Byrne playing a synapse-snapped rapper and the band laying down riffs that are downright magical.
Talking Heads have always - from their seven-inch start, Love→Building On Fire, a chain of logical emotionalism in which that arrow implied all - reminded me of the Bronx High School of Science, which is probably why I've approached them with a mixture of attraction and wariness. Give a guy like Byrne a box of tinker toys and he'll build you a metropolis with a working sewer system; then, with colored pencils, he'll chart the links between the chamber of commerce and the red light district. A dangerous boy. On Remain In Light he's like a whizkid stoned on a whiff of the Famous Flames, caught in his own beat, mumbling disconnected phrases ("the hand speaks... well, I'm a tumbler... born under punches... I'm so thin") on the stairwell. Not since Love's Arthur Lee has mulatto-rock sounded like it was concocted on a Bunsen burner.
So take this T-Funk as another step in the path trod (unwittingly?) by Gary U.S. Bonds on Getting A Groove (flip of Seven Day Weekend): there are no "normal" chord changes, bridges, choruses, or many long solos, just on-and-on patterns over which the lyric line creates melody. At times the tension produces a stiff, Police-Cars alienation effect. At times it is riveting; on Crosseyed (the single) Byrne breaks into a list of about a dozen statements about "facts" ("...don't stain the furniture," "...are useless in emergencies,"...) and it's like Godard gone goofy; Curve is a religious ceremony with psychedelic guitar, three-part vocal harmony, and the party-time atmosphere of the Peppermint Lounge ("She's gonna hold / it move / it hold it / move it..."); and Punches latches on to a figure that the band doesn't want to let slip away. Can't blame them.
The more "contemplative" tunes on Remain In Light lack the propulsive persuasiveness of those side-one rave-ups but are not without their own concrete jungle swing and sway. The terrorist who "plants devices in the free trade zone" in Listening Wind, accompanied by deceptive calm, Seen And Not Seen's character (described in deadpan narration like "The Gift" from White Light/ White Heat) who meditates on the malleability of facial structure, the twilight zone domestic situation of Once In A Lifetime (with the eerie chant "same as it ever was"): all are real, and realized, subjective reaches. Only The Overload, an over-long, over-obscure stretch most representative, I suspect, of the so-far unreleased Eno-Byrne LP My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, dims the project (that, and the relative anonymity that the format imposes on Weymouth, Frantz and Harrison).
It's all hook, or anti-hook, depending on how you look at it. It's music that sounds cornered and liberated at the same time, and quirky beyond comprehension. Remain In Light is to these ears the first time that an album by Talking Heads is as likable as the theory of Talking Heads is intriguing. The band is chasing something that may ultimately be out of reach, but at this juncture I wouldn't bet against them.