25 Albums – Talking Heads – Remain In Light

There were planes on the back of it

Talking Heads are/were one of my favourite bands. At one time they were my favourite, hands down. I could have gone with the first album of theirs I got into, Little Creatures, or the first one I bought, True Stories, but I’m going to go all muso-journo on you and talk about Remain In Light, their third Eno collaboration, released in 1980.

When Road To Nowhere came out in 1985, I was at school, and it was a big radio hit. Friend Paul and I got into Talking Heads that way. Actually, he got all the records, and I would tape them, until I stifled the inner Scrooge long enough to go to Andy’s Records on Harpur Street and buy Fear Of Music, along with Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces and The Tom Tom Club’s Close To The Bone, on vinyl.

Around this time, the BBC broadcast a very long documentary about music videos. I didn’t record it at the time, but when it was broadcast again on BBC2 while the 1987 General Election results came in, I taped it and watched it repeatedly. Every few minutes, a graphical banner appeared in red or blue (or even yellow) saying “Bloody Tories Retain North Beds – More Skeet For You, Suckers!”. The program was a history of music videos, from early jazz/animation experimentation, to Top Of The Pops fillers, to MTV. Various bands were highlighted for having innovative videos, and Talking Heads was included, along with Madness. I remember a good segment about Cucumber Studios, who did a lot of cool stuff in the 80’s – very 80’s, IIRC.

What caught my eye was the crazy video for Once In A Lifetime, featuring David Byrne jerking and twitching while he emulated the preachers and witchdoctors sampled in the video. This gave rise to many amusing reenactments in the quad at Pilgrim Upper between classes. It also led to listening to the whole album, and realizing what a marvelous piece of work it is.

(Sidebar fact! My original taped copy had the two sides taped in the wrong order, so for a long time I thought Once In A Lifetime was the opening track.)

Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)

…I’m a government man.

Straight into the weird. Jakka jakka guitars, off-time drum boinks, and an electronic burbling freakout halfway through. A plea for understanding from a civil servant? He’ll be telling us his building has every convenience next. Actually, it’s apparently based on testimony from someone embroiled in the Watergate scandal.

Crosseyed and Painless

Facts all come with points of view, facts don’t do what I want them to.

Even Toni Basil’s anachronistic street dancing video couldn’t spoil this one. 4/4 cowbell beat, back and forth answering synth and guitar gestures, and Byrne’s obsession with words and facts as objects, plus a nicely amusing nasal spoken middle bit. Not my favourite track, but you can dance to it. You can dance to it.

(I did like the car in the video.)

The Great Curve

A world of light, she’s gonna open our eyes up.

Awesome, in the truest sense of the word. Apparently recorded in the NASA Vehicle Assembly building, judging by the reverb. Synth/horn stabs, guitar salvos echoing off like tracer into the night, and the multi-layered vocal washes, first one, then the other, then both giving the impression of an ecstatic African choir (which it probably was). Wonderful. It would have worked excellently as the last track on the album, just saying…

Once in a Lifetime

There is water at the bottom of the ocean

What can I say? This must have been incredibly different to anything when it came out. Looped synth wailing, shuffling cyclic drums, someone going “mur mur” in time with the bass after every phrase.

The lyrics about water were reflected in the burbling background. Other than that, was it just an extension of the preacher stuff on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts? Dunno. Wonderful expression of looking around and trying to see where you’ve been and where you might go from here. It ties in with Born Under Punches in that respect.

The live Stop Making Sense version emphasised the final triumpant chords, but I prefer the studio version.

Houses in Motion

Wearing shoes with no socks in cold weather.

I love the two-note guitar running through this – it provides a simple backbone for the squelchy noises, reverbed quacks and throbs of bass. Lyrically, it’s another discussion of architecture, the human body, self-awareness and transformation – seems to be the theme of the album.

Is that Eno on some kind of flute in the middle?

Seen and Not Seen

Some people may have gotten halfway there, and then changed their minds.

More about the transformation again. You can really tell where Byrne is at, sometimes. Listening to this album along with My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and Music For The Knee Plays, and reading the Stop Making Sense liner notes, there’s this thread of matter-of-fact statements about the world, people and the future.

More cyclic percussion, synth noodling, harmonic murmuring, echoing pulses of guitar, and and ecstatic sense of losing control of your own image.

Listening Wind

Mojique plants devices in the free trade zone.

Something about Red Indians?

OK, sorry. This is definitely a more political statement, about reservations and “my people’s land” and all that. I’m too ignorant to go into it too much. Again with the cyclic rhythms, washes of atmospherics, small guitar remarks and pulses.

The Overload

We travel on the quiet road

Stark yet warm. Empty yet stifling. Throbbing. Bits of it sound like Sonic Attack by Hawkwind, which is reasonable considering the power of the nonstop bass. Could be played at double the speed and still make sense.

This is my favourite Talking Heads album, despite dalliances with all the others. I can still listen to this end-to-end, starting on either side. Plus the cover is great – someone just got the new software paintbox and scribbled on the photos. Nice.

And you may say to yourself, “My God, what have I done?”