Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Remain in Light -- Talking Heads -- Review

Album cover containing four portraits covered by red blocks of colour, captioned "TALKING HEADS" (with inverted "A"s) at the top and (much smaller) "REMAIN IN LIGHT" at the bottom.
Remain in Light (1980)
Rating: 14
"Same as it ever was..."
Best Song: Any of the first four tracks
Worst Song: The Overload
       I don't even know what to say. The thought of reviewing Remain in Light has single-handedly scared me away from writing any more reviews for a good five months. Considered by many to be the greatest album of the 80s, there are literally hundreds of reviews out there already saying the exact same things that I would like to say. I could easily sum up the review in one quick quote -- if you don't own it, you should. That's it. But of course, I could never do that, and thus I'm stuck, just waiting to tell you something you probably already know. At any rate, Eno's back again, and his production here is quite possibly the highlight of his entire career; hell, I'd say that this is the best thing ever released with the words "Brian Eno" listed somewhere on the packaging (it's at least in a dead heat with Before and After Science).
       Every instrument is manipulated to the point of it hardly sounding like its original incarnation; it sounds like an album delivered from an alien planet. If it had somehow gone unreleased over all these years and the band were to put it out next week and act as if it were a brand new album, the musical press would wet itself over the "forward-thinking, futuristic" ideas contained herein. It literally hasn't aged a day, simply because it really isn't based on any trends; the synthesizers here sound nothing like the New Wave-y, poppy synths that have become synonymous with the 80s. We're dealing with a truly before-its-time album, one that I predict will sound just as fresh and unique fifty years from now.
       And on top of all the sonic experimentation, it's just a flat-out fun album to listen to. Obviously the chorus of "Once in a Lifetime" is one of the greatest moments in pop history, but tracks like "The Great Curve" and "Crosseyed and Painless" are completely accessible pop songs, just pop songs that have been twisted, rearranged, and tinkered with to the point of complete perfection -- you can listen to the album thirty times and still be discovering new ideas, melodies, and noises.
       Of course, not everything is completely catchy radio fare -- the opening "Born Under Punches" can be a bit overwhelming at first, due to Byrne's "manic, raving preacher" shtick and the disorienting nature of the percussion. Not to mention that the chorus and various vocal melodies can seem a bit atonal until the ending, when all the song's disparaging elements and fragments come together; oh yes, the glorious cascading vocals and triumphant chants of "AND THE HEAT GOES ON!" that take up the last half of the track might just be the Heads' shining moment as a band.
       "Listening Wind" and "Houses in Motion" might be viewed as relatively mellow and dull, especially compared to the catchy dance-grooves that make up the album's first half, and while I don't like them quite as much as I do those, I still enjoy them quite a bit. "Wind" in particular is a great track with a memorable chorus, chilling synth textures, and a fascinatingly eerie, uneasy mood. The spoken-word "Seen and Not Seen" can also be slightly off-putting, although the groove that backs up Byrne's story is PHENOMENAL, and the story itself (about how humanity subconsciously either accepts or attempts to change the way they look) is rather thought-provoking.
       The only track that doesn't completely work for me is the band's Joy Division tribute "The Overload" -- it's too dreary to be enjoyable, and too bland to be depressing. The production is still plenty interesting, but as far as experimental closers to Talking Heads albums go, I'll take "Drugs" any day. Other than that, though, I'd be hard-pressed to find anything wrong with Remain in Light. It's an extremely high 14, almost a 15, and easily my favorite album of the 80s. Go into it with an open mind, but give it a shot -- adventurous listeners will be rewarded. There's certainly nothing else like it.

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