Written by Nicole Pottgen
Welcome back to album of the week! This week we will be taking a look at a masterpiece from the dawn of the 80s; the captivating experience that is the fourth studio album of new wave, post-punk band, Talking Heads. This is, Remain in Light.
Formed in 1975, Talking Heads were heavily immersed in the punk-rock scene in New York City and they underwent a major evolution in their style within the preceding years. The band was a four-piece outfit with lead singer/guitarist David Byrne, who brought an extraordinary allure to the band. Bassist Tina Weymouth added a particularly unique sound to the band, as she did not know how to play bass before she joined— man does she bring the groove. Once you know this, you can truly recognize and appreciate the eccentric basslines that their records are ridden with.
Talking Heads have time and time again posed the question of which genre they adhere to, whether they would be considered new-wave, art rock, or funk rock. Remain in Light is a striking moment in their discography that never fails to amaze me with its intriguing departure from their previous albums.
Released in 1980, Remain in Light was completely ahead of its time in terms of its storytelling and its musical uniqueness. There are many elements that make this album as addicting as it is, one of them being its intoxicating rhythm arrangements; this album makes it utterly impossible for you not to dance. The feature of Afrobeat is one of the most distinctive features of Remain in Light. The West-African influences lend an intricacy and a dance-like nature to the record. We can hear elements of Afrobeat especially in the opening track, “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On).” This track instantly hits you with a punchiness that pulls you right into the madness. With Byrne’s emotive speak-style singing over the never-ending build-up of the chorus vocals, this track is absolutely hypnotic from beginning to end. The driving bassline and complex polyrhythms create a solid foundation for the rest of the funky characteristics in this track.
Another stand out track on the record (as well as my personal favorite) is track three, “The Great Curve.” I am especially struck by the lyrical themes presented in this song, here are a few lines:
The world moves on a woman’s hips
The world moves and it swivels and bops
The world moves on a woman’s hips
The world moves and it bounces and hops
A world of light
She’s gonna open our eyes up
There is a clear discussion in this song of the divine feminine in relation to mother nature. I love the images this song creates, there is a sense of power and transcendence that is strengthened by the busy, forceful musical arrangements. There is so much happening at once in this song, every time I listen to it I pick up on something new that excites me. The simultaneous vocal lines, the wild, distorted guitars, and the never-ending groove encompasses the feel of the album perfectly.
Side Two of this record is notably darker and more cryptic. With the final two tracks, “Listening Wind” and “The Overload” ending this album in a slow-paced and almost haunting way. It removes you from the maximalism of the first side, and brings a dreaminess that I think concludes the project wonderfully.
This album is a journey of expression, identity and control. It is satisfyingly unpredictable and genre-bending. If you haven’t already, I urge you to indulge in the musical trance that is Remain in Light, to discover its wonders, and to maybe even ask yourself, “well, how did I get here?”