"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo Special Limited Edition JANUARY 2005 - by Tom Doyle
TALKING HEADS: REMAIN IN LIGHT
Before Remain In Light the term art rock was usually applied to music made by any bunchnof students who'd forsaken the easel in favour of the electic guitar. But Talking Heads' fourth album earned its distinction as probably the ultimate art rock album simply because each of its tracks was built up, layer by layer, like abstract expressionist paintings.
If the likes of Can, Pink Floyd and even The Beatles had once used similar tecniques, they were more musical in their approach. When, in early 1980, Talking Heads began recording basic tracks, they imposed certain restrictions on themselves: these were songs - many featuring only one chord - that would be written entirely in the studio and built up on the blank canvases of the master tapes.
The fact that Remain In Light is so unique can be attributed entirely to the band and writer/producer Brian Eno's minimalist approach, even if the completed results were dizzyingly kaleidoscopic. Having dabbled with African beats on their previous album, the basic tracks of its follow-up would take the approach much further, constructing the music from the feet up: fractured polyrhythms of drums, cowbells and congas conspiring with dislocated basslines to create grooves that sounded like nothing previously attributed to any white alternative rock band.
And from there on in, Eno and Talking Heads kept piling up the layers. The beauty of their one-chord theory meant that any one part would fit any other, so the music became a heady collage of treated guitar edits, eccentric synth stabs and ethereal noise.
Exotic musical diversions aside, there was no mistaking the fact that this was bandleader David Byrne's record. Having cultivated his anxiety-fuelled persona over three previous albums, the singer turned to the fevered pronouncements of the TV evangelists for many of his performances here. From Born Under Punches (Take a look at these hands!) through to Once In A Lifetime's panicked sermon on the emptiness of modern life, this was Byrne casting himself as the possessed preacher. If the paranoid narrative of Crosseyed And Painless was more familiar territory, by the bridge the singer was rapping like the class nerd trying to impersonate Kurtis Blow.
Essentially, Remain In Light's originality lies in its blend of cut-up soundscapes and lyrical non-sequiturs, its persistent grooves and melodic sensibilities. It literally sounds like nothing else.
Perhaps tellingly, when it appeared, the album's cover featured all four members of Talking Heads with their faces obscured by masks of red digital fuzz. The message seemed to be: dont't look at the band, listen to the music.