INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Guardian SEPTEMBER 17, 2012 - by Ian Patrick
TALKING HEADS: REMAIN IN LIGHT
More than three decades after its initial release, Talking Heads' magnum opus of funk/pop meets art-rock paranoia remains the "same as it ever was" - and then some.
The first sounds to leave lead singer David Byrne's lips - save for a couple of incomprehensible howls and yelps - on opening track Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) is the immortal line "Take a look at these hands!". Delivered with the enthusiasm of an evangelist preacher, the phrase is repeated - like a mantra - to us, the congregation, and from this moment forth, self-conscious man-in-the-big-suit Byrne has lost control. Narrative, reason, meaning - it seems - holds no value for this government man. All he wants is to breathe. And the band, conveniently, provide the perfect soundtrack for a world in which rhythm, that most primal of musical instincts, reigns supreme.
Over the course of eight tracks, Talking Heads - with the assistance of producer-auteur Brian Eno - blend funk, post-punk and African music into an intoxicating and irresistible sonic soup. And by the end of The Great Curve, with its frantic vocal arrangement and driving percussion, the listener has been grooved into submission, with Byrne as witness: "She is moving to describe the world / she has messages for everyone / she is moving by remote control / hands that move her are invisible". And as each line is punctuated with "Night must fall now, darker, darker", the song transforms into a primordial nocturne. Fewer than two years later, fellow art-rocker Peter Gabriel would attempt to capture some of that accompanying paranoia through Carl Jung's experiences in Africa. But it wouldn't have been the music of The Rhythm Of The Heat that made Jung "lose control" to the rhythm that has his soul - it would be Remain In Light.
If all great albums need an accessible way in - something to cling on to in all of the confusion and ineffability of new artistic experience - then the minor UK hit Once In A Lifetime may boast such a virtue. Still a staple on rock-oriented radio, Byrne's tale of the everyman finds him returning to role of preacher, disconnected and cast adrift on a sea of existentialism. "You may find yourself", Byrne lectures, "in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, well: how did I get here?" The influence of Brian Eno is impossible to miss, with the Roxy Music man even sharing a writing credit, and the fractured phrases forming this midlife crisis owe a significant debt to Eno's own approach to lyric writing. Musically economical and consisting of only two sections, the song steers the album away from the obvious buoyancy of the first three tracks to a more ambivalent and downbeat second half. But for Byrne, it's simply the "same as it ever was..."
"He would see faces in movies, on TV, in magazines, and in books..." begins Byrne, underpinned by one of the albums most sparse and economical grooves, on Seen And Not Seen. As the music drifts, Byrne's account of the ideal image - and the constant pursuit of it - is greeted with the introduction of a vocal melody, ascending and descending with the ease of folksong to barely discernable syllables. The effect is haunting, and makes for the album's subtlest moment. Not as subtle, however, and arguably the most conventionally narrative of all of Byrne's lyrics on the album, is the eerie Listening Wind. Again, the link with Peter Gabriel is brought to the fore, whose own take on the song materialised as the Arvo Pärt-inspired orchestral version on 2010's Scratch My Back. Gabriel's choice is a blatant one, and in this post-9/11 world of paranoia and American imperialism, both versions take on frightening and poignant new levels of relevance and complexity.
So what else to make of Remain In Light in the twenty-first century? The postmodern aesthetic, which no doubt inspired many of the musical and lyrical directions taken on the album - particularly by Byrne and Eno - seems to constantly linger; at once both outdated and irrelevant yet perpetually meaningful in our fractured and now almost entirely digital age. Byrne's everyman may no longer be worried about ending up in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife: such existential questions do not bother him in a world in which the promise of capitalism holds little reality for those other than the divinely ordained bishops of our consumerist cathedrals. But our experience of reality, with most of us unaware of what - if any - reality it is that we are plugged in to, remains nauseating and deeply suspicious. "Find a little space, so we can move in-between". And more than thirty years on, Remain In Light may still be able to offer such a promise.