It seems like a fool's errand to properly discuss a band like Talking Heads, let alone their fourth album Remain in Light, when so many hipster bands are aping their style and seemingly don't even know it. The Heads were part of the CBGB punk/New Wave scene and like many of the great groups from that era (Television, Blondie, Ramones), they had a distinct look, sound and vision to go along with their musical might. Like Blondie they were an art project masquerading as a rock band, but they took it into an entirely different realm of pop exploration. While Blondie was a glamorous kind of downtown New York demimonde chic, the Heads were interested in creating some kind of tribal-punk-pop dance party to usher in the New World Order. They were arty, they were weird, they were a fucking brilliant band.
Their first two albums are nervous and twitchy artsy affairs, and with Fear of Music they branched out to include some experiments with world beats and tribal instrumentation. "The world moves on a woman's hips" -- indeed. Formed from loops and fragments recorded painstakingly one at a time, Light proves that the punk movement was truly an artist's playground to expand and move forward the vocabulary of rock music. Think of the way that the Ramones so progressively turned surf-pop and girl group sounds into head-banging noise, or the way that Patti Smith broke open the poetical possibilities for a song's lyrics and how she so successfully built upon her natural androgyny to perform as characters. The Heads were probably the artiest and weirdest of the whole lot, which is really saying something.
Light features a pop song which plays out more like an evangelical sermon delivered in a minimalist-disco in "Once in a Lifetime." Think of the way it builds upon itself over such simple parts. Tina Weymouth's bass note is really just a one-two and there's nothing terribly complicated going on with the drums, guitar work or layers of keyboards. It's the vocals that really push it into the stratosphere. Maniac, bug-eyed and nervous, David Byrne delivers each lyrics like Moses on the mountain top before sweeping in with a spoken-word chant of a chorus. It's a gloriously strange moment, and the entire album is built upon these kind of gloriously strange moments.
The way that "Born Under Punches" evokes a Beat-poet lyrical with its half-formed connections and symbols which seem to go nowhere in particular but on a wandering journey. Or the way that much like Blondie did with "Rapture" during the same year, "Crosseyed & Painless" features one of the earliest instances of rap released on a mainstream label. Like all the CBGB bands they had one finger on the pulse, images and sounds of the new generation(s) and the other on the past.
Just think of how easy it would be to list their progeny. "Animal" by Neon Trees isn't terribly unlike a Talking Heads song. Neither is anything ever released by Hot Hot Heat, the Killers, the Rapture, or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Much of what is happening to today is based on what the Talking Heads were doing during the late-70s/early-80s. Unless it's a female-fronted outfit then it seems to owe just as much to Blondie as the Heads. (OK, so I greatly enjoy two of the bands I named earlier, but whatever. Not the point.)
For a genre that was given the disposable label upon first being heard, the sights and sounds of the New Wave seem to have proven more than durable. Think of how the Heads manipulated images to go along with their songs. They were there on the forefront of MTV and music video technology and ideology. Byrne's over-sized suits and erratic dancing are just as indelible as any of the songs featured on this album.
The polyrhythmic art-school dance-rock of Light would only go on to serve as a manifesto for future releases like "Burning Down the House." It was here that rock musicians were expected and forced to explore their sound and take it into different locations. Think of the tremor that they caused. Remain in Light: a group of nerdy-white kids manifesto about punk-dance avant-garde tribal parties in the New World Order. Absolutely essential listening. DOWNLOAD: "Once in a Lifetime"