A cornerstone of sonic innovation and artistic brilliance following three wonderful records, Talking Heads fourth release, Remain in Light stands atop the fantastic 16 year discography of Talking Heads. The record stands as a testament to the band's creative prowess and remains virtually unparalleled to this day. Earning its rightful place among the greatest musical creations of all time, its fusion of new wave, funk, and world music elements not only showcases the band's boundary-pushing style but also solidifies their role as icons in the alternative music space.
Now 43 years later, the album still holds its own showcasing an immense amount of creativity, leaving listeners with a record where not one single song shines dimmer than the rest. The band expertly crafted eight unique tracks from the sunny Bahamas building upon the alternative rock boom of the ‘70s alongside a plethora of worldly influences including afrofunk, calypso, reggae, along with the prominent new wave and post-punk sounds. As the punk rock sound began to decline by the late ‘70s with most bands of the style turning more towards new-wave or the more musically complex post-punk such as The Clash, Talking Heads had a unique opportunity to attempt and stear music in a new, more worldly direction.
Drawing inspiration from Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, the album seamlessly melds intricate percussive rhythms, pulsating basslines, and ethereal melodies in a manner somewhat akin to Paul Simon’s Graceland which was released six years later. This fusion of diverse influences created a danceable, hypnotic experience that lured listeners into a mesmerizing clash between the familiar and the unexplored, especially on the record's third track, The Great Curve. Tracks like The Great Curve alongside Crosseyed and Painless foreshadowed the Madchester rave-like scene of the late ‘80s making rock songs so infectious, they just have to be danced to.
The seamless integration of Brian Eno's production genius with David Byrne's unique vocals resulted in a symphony of musical innovation well beyond guitar, drum and bass. In utilizing synths and keyboards a few years before it became the norm in the mid-’80s, the band built upon a wall of sound technique often putting the vocals behind the instrumentation, notably on the outro of Once in a Lifetime.
The album's groundbreaking use of loops, samples, and layering was years and years ahead of what was the norm in rock music. With the album recorded in a nonlinear process, the songs were built as they went, often coming back and adding and removing layers. When broken down, most tracks are revealed to be interestingly enough relatively simple, with few chords before layers and layers of additional sound were added whether it be trumpet, percussion or many of the vocal harmonies.
Each track serves as a brushstroke on a canvas of unprecedented musical innovation to the tune of a Frank Zappa-like creation. It's a work that defies categorization, instead inviting listeners to immerse themselves in its kaleidoscopic soundscapes from African music, to new-wave, to R&B.
In discussing Remain in Light as an influence for their album Kid A, Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead stated “It's played the same exact thing for five minutes, which is really interesting. And that's why it's not exhausting to listen to because you're not hearing the same piece of music over and over again. You're hearing it slightly differently every time. There's a lesson there." He’s exactly right, there is so much sound going on, that the focal points can often change upon each listen. Alongside Radiohead, Talking Heads with this record at the forefront were influential for a wave of bands like TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend and LCD Soundsystem.
In the realm of almost perfect albums, Remain in Light reigns supreme. Its influence on music is immeasurable, its musical landscapes are a testament to taking the road less traveled and of course, its status as a musical masterpiece remains untarnished, and if anything, greater than ever.