Remain In Light

Remain In Light

100 Best Albums Talking Heads and their producer Brian Eno shared a love of African music, especially the work of Nigerian firebrand Fela Kuti, who built 15- to 20-minute songs out of repeated funk and jazz riffs. Fela was one of the strongest influences on Remain in Light, the fourth Talking Heads record, which is often ranked (justly!) as one of the greatest albums ever. There’d never been a prominent rock band that explored polyrhythms this thoroughly and ably. All four band members and Eno played multiple instruments on the album’s eight songs, and they also brought in percussionists, guitarist Adrian Belew (who’d recently played with David Bowie), the fantastic soul singer Nona Hendryx of Labelle, and avant-garde trumpeter Jon Hassell, who adds a tart melody line to “Houses in Motion.” Talking Heads albums are always conceptually sound, but they’re also physically satisfying, and the crosscurrent rhythms and musical hooks on Remain in Light give the album a kind of brute force. The band was also savvy enough by now to add small touches that rooted the music to pop traditions: a cowbell on “Crosseyed and Painless,” Hendryx’s prominent background vocal on “The Great Curve,” and Tina Weymouth’s seesaw, six-note bass on “Once In a Lifetime.” Singer David Byrne’s interest in non-American cultures led him to the atmospheric song “Listening Wind,” which describes the stealthy actions of a man named Mojique, a bomber who targets the colonialist Americans who’ve begun living in his country. Where Mojique lives isn’t specified (there are hints of North Africa), and maybe that’s the point—there are many countries where Americans have made themselves unwelcome. Byrne wrote the song in the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis, which may have influenced him. The album describes terrorism and danger (and on the last song, “The Overload,” dread as well), but the overall mood of these thick, extended jams is ebullience, in the music as well as the lyrics. “The world moves on a woman’s hips,” Byrne whoops on “The Great Curve,” a celebration of sexuality and physical joy, in which the singer escapes from existential angst into a “world of light.”

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