OUR WEEKLY ALBUM SALUTE STEPS INTO THE FUTURE
BY WAY OF THE PAST
Remain In Light (1980), the fourth album from Talking Heads is arguably one of the single most important albums of the past quarter century, and the crown atop one of the greatest three-album streaks in rock's history. A cross continental, genre slashing, funky throw down, Light illuminates the tumultuous, anxious atmosphere of the '80s on the eve of their arrival. With a P.O.V. that was both prescient and eerily eternal, the album encapsulates a great deal about modernity, social disassociation and the ongoing blending of musical cultures brought about by an ever-shrinking globe.
Yesterday was bassist-singer Tina Weymouth's 58th birthday, and the occasion affords us a chance to look back at the band Talking Heads, which the years following their dissolution have often slanted to view of "David Byrne and those other people." All songwriting credits on Remain In Light are attributed to Byrne, Weymouth, Chris Frantz (drums), Jerry Harrison (guitar, keys, vox) and producer Brian Eno. A fully collaborative feel permeates and it makes one sigh that it was Eno's final effort behind the boards, following the nearly-as-brilliant More Songs About Buildings & Food (1978) and Fear of Music (1979). With Weymouth in particular, there's much to be said about the impact of her positively insinuating bass work, two-fingered keyboard stabs and girlish chirp – a terrific and often uncredited counterpoint to Byrne's manly mumble – on Light, not to mention the myriad other touches Frantz, Harrison and guesting fellow travelers like Adrian Belew (guitar), Jon Hassell (trumpet, effects) and Nona Hendryx (backing vox) add to the album. This is FAR from a Byrne solo construction.
Bands of every stripe - American, African and otherwise – are still living out the ripples cast by Remain In Light almost 30 years on. It remains a thrilling listening experience that never feels dated despite its age. Byrne quickly positioned himself as "the mastermind" of the band soon afterwards, beginning to stake out his claim on Speaking In Tongues (1983) but quickly moving to the sole songwriter credit by Little Creatures (1985) and True Stories (1986). Even tossing the others a "Music by" nod on Naked (1988) couldn't reignite the group dynamics that fueled Light and their earlier releases. As much as any tremendous novel or film, this album is a wide-angle sweep of contemporary life that's at once joyously busy and tremulously scary.
Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
Crosseyed and Painless
The Great Curve
Once in a Lifetime
Houses in Motion
Seen and Not Seen
Just as the album begins, we launch the visual portion of our remembrance with "Born Under Punches," captured at a blazing show in Rome in 1980. Adrian Belew is delightfully unhinged here. And check an equally devastating "Crosseyed and Painless" from the same concert here.
Speaking of "Crosseyed," here's Phish on German television in 1997 doing the track, which provides a kind of blueprint for a certain school of jamming followed by Phish, RAQ and many others in the years after Remain In Light.
We dial the time machine back to 1980 for the Heads on German TV doing "Once In A Lifetime."
One more piece of Phish for y'all: "The Overload" from their legendary Halloween '96 show.
Returning to Rome on that amazing 1980 Talking Heads European tour, we conclude with the ants-under-your-clothes jitter of "The Great Curve."