Talking Heads - Remain In Light - Review
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critics' view

There’s a chance, slim though it may be, that you haven’t yet listened to Remain in Light. Please, find and play it now. Feet tapping, and fingers clicking? That’s to be expected. Soon, exquisite textures come into focus. Brilliant, isn’t it? An album that sounds as fresh in 2012 as it ever has.

Each time Remain in Light’s 40 minutes pass you by there’s likely to be something new to hear. Fidgety opener Born Under Punches is one of a handful of cuts that seems to get itself locked into an infinite loop – a good thing. It, like the equally muscular, equally wired The Great Curve, utilises club-land repetition mapped to Afrobeat-at-double-speed architecture to create an end product that’s utterly hypnotic.

Remain in Light wasn’t the first time Talking Heads, helmed by the inimitable David Byrne, had worked with producer Brian Eno. Nor was it the first time they’d incorporated elements of "world" music: debut set Talking Heads: 77’s opener, Uh-oh, Love Comes to Town, features steelpan sounds from the Caribbean. But it was (is!) the indubitable zenith of both the band’s Eno collaborations and their explorations beyond art/post-punk and new wave templates.

Whilst Byrne and bandmates’ intentions from the outset were framed by the desire to experiment, Remain in Light is a perfectly accessible affair, never losing sight of the following Talking Heads had attracted via minor single hits like Psycho Killer and their cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River.

This mainstream-savvy sensibility is encapsulated by Once in a Lifetime. Far from Remain in Light’s most riveting moment, it’s nevertheless the ideal introduction to this set: Eno’s introduction of Fela Kuti-inspired rhythms lends the track a savant edge, but Byrne’s aspiration-meets-realism lyricism connects with a universal audience. With MTV offering support come the station’s 1981 launch, the track was Talking Heads’ best-known song until it was out-radio-played by 1985’s Road to Nowhere.

Road to Nowhere’s parent LP, Little Creatures, can’t match Remain in Light’s bravado, though. This fourth album illustrates how keen ambition could gel with commercial nous, with results that dazzle. Even in its darker turns - closer The Overload the obvious example -these eight tracks continue to fascinate over 30 years after their creation.

In short: same as it ever was, same as it ever was…

Mike Diver
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading. external-link.png

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