INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Musician JANUARY 1981 - by Van Gosse
TALKING HEADS: REMAIN IN LIGHT
I don't know about you, but I've been holding my breath through all of 1980, waiting for something to happen. So far there's been a series of blockbuster affirmations of the old verities, gobs of guitar feasting and tuney in-the-cause-of-nothing poppist revels (the Big Three: London Calling, Pretenders and Emotional Rescue) and a small bare choir of post-punk Romantic statements in pain and rhythm.
Now along comes David Byrne and his Engels, Eno, to provide food for funking and thought with an LP unlike absolutely anything anywhere hitherto. It sounds as if an extremely tight white-pop International brigade (The Robert Johnson Battalion?) was recruited and trained in the subtleties, cross-talk inflections, and collective non-hierarchical group relations (no strict foreground/background splits as in rock'n'roll) of tribally-based electronic Africano funk a la Fela and Johnny Mensa. Said unit works up eight meaty embellished rhythm feasts and then patterns of speechifying incantation, long crossbar melodic drones with sudden great thrilling choral washes layered on top. This would be arty, turgid, pretentious and boring indeed if Byrne et al were your typical intellectual freebooting petit mal bourgeois despoilers of other people's traditions. As we all know, that is not the case. The collective intelligence of Talking Heads is the most rigourous around, and given their concern with the texture of recorded sound and the utmost sanguine rhythmic precision of parts, it is not too surprising that they would be the ones to break out from being just a brilliant odd rock band into an internationalist pop formation, a vanguard cadre for all three worlds.
What does this black bendable Bolshevism evoke, then? It's in no way gloomy, but there is far too much rattling percussive fierceness; too much keening loss in the massed open fifth harmonies, and martial intensity to call this "entertaining" or "party-time". Raucous and passionately danceable as it is, Remain In Light has nothing at all to do with leisure - its joy is that of hard work and hard lives.
Even five years ago as a raw trio, the irregular partisans that would grow into this great host were it, the tops, the best thing going anywhere for pure smart soulful music. Their new record is a confirmation of their pre-eminent role and is a monumental step forward, a storming of the Winter Palace moment. Whether their path is taken or not (I wouldn't bet on it, you know how reactionary and narrow-minded most rockers are), it throws a long, hard shadow over mere mortal pop for the many days to come.