Talking Heads - Remain In Light (Cover Artwork)

Talking Heads

Remain In Light (1980)


To most people, they weren't punk. They aren't really, particularly in this album. They're more of an art-punk band, or art-funk, or something. They sang non-trite songs with non-trivial lyrics about trivial subjects for the first few albums. They got weirder. Remain in Light was their moment of unbridled genius. In broken lyrics and chords, they changed my world, at least.

Talking Heads' Remain in Light is one of those albums that seems as brilliant and fresh today to my young ears as it did to my father's in 1980. Today's garage-rock scene is just a pale attempt at sounding like the '77 punk bands, which means when The Strokes grow up, they'll dream of sounding like this. I guess the closest thing I could give for a reference point would be a much darker, more intense, more serious Hot Hot Heat, but that doesn't come close.

To listen to even just the first five tracks on Remain in Light is to be torn apart by David Byrne's vocals, which were inspired by the desperate melodramatics of a televangelist. Listen to the tracks the first time and all you might get out of it is the cheesiness of late 70's synthesizers. Yeah, there's beeps and boops and whatnot, but it all fits into the music more than any other synth I've ever heard. The synth and bass were done by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, the married 'Heads who went on to form Tom Tom Club, makers of some of the best dance tracks of the last fifteen years.

So the musical ability is there, but what does it sound like? What could I say to give you a point of reference? I don't know. The music of the Heads was schitzophrenic, but not in a way I've ever heard elsewhere. The bass is high in the mix, and the guitars aren't playing full chords, but broken ones. Most of the songs have maybe one or perhaps two chords per song, and the guitar is very repetitive, but it's not guitar-driven music. The synth in the background carries it, forming the perfect background to David Byrne's stilted raving.

The lyrics are... broken, just like the music. They strike me as being intensely hopeless and fearful, which is probably the case. David Byrne's fascination with women seems evident as well here. The subjects of the songs are always women, or David himself. He seems terrified, or maybe just neurotic, but that's typically him.

In fact, I can't say that anything happening on this album is particularly out of character for Talking Heads, except that this disc is some of the most incredible music I've ever heard. It's only eight songs, but they're all amazing.

Buy it today.