Talking Heads: Remain in Light

Luke Stiles

Talking Heads

Remain in Light

Subtitle: DualDisc reissue
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2006-01-10
UK Release Date: 2006-01-16
Insound affiliate

By now, most people know that nerds are cool. I recently realized that my nerdiest relative, the uncle who went to MIT, gave me my favorite album, Remain in Light by the Talking Heads, (a pretty nerdy group of folks in their own right). I don't remember exactly when he gave it to me, but I think it was probably Christmas, seventh grade. That would make the year 1985 and me 12. I was on the verge of great things, and his gift of the Talking Heads' Remain in Light definitely did its part to push me over the top. Within a year I would have a punk rock mullet, pick up a guitar, start smoking pot, and start worrying about not getting laid. I got to know the album front to back, and even though the album was five years old, as they vaulted to stardom with the inclusion of "Burning Down the House" on the Revenge of the Nerds soundtrack, I was able to cop the ultimate music snob attitude: the I-like-their-older-stuff-better attitude. Life was good and I began my charade of cool and being a few steps ahead of the masses that continues to this day.

Remain in Light pulled me in for the first time with its unfamiliar rhythms and art-rock sensibilities. I pored over the lyric sheet when I first received the album, and the perfection of their post-modern inscrutability continues to be a source of pleasure. Possibly even more important was David Byrne. I'm no idolater and I eschew celebrity, but David Byrne was an object of rare obsession for a moment in late eighth grade. My status as a celebrity slut skyrocketed to its peak when I bought a poster from the hottest girl in my class. I never would have had the guts to talk to her then, and still wouldn't today, but the prospect of acquiring a centerpiece for my shrine thawed out my normally frozen larynx. I even went so far as experimenting with the slicked back hairstyle David rocked in the poster, but my rapidly lengthening locks were not particularly cooperative, and soon after I graduated to "accidental" dreadlocks.

My musical interests became even more tangled, and my fascination with David Byrne and the Talking Heads faded. I had just been introduced to the sophistication of jazz. The intensity of metal beckoned. My excitement about hip-hop came to a head with Public Enemy, NWA, and all members of the Native Tongues family. At the same time, I was swept up in the local punk scene, playing in some bands and partying with the rest. And there was always classic rock on the upstate radio stations. But at 17, when packing for a move, I dusted off my Talking Heads tapes and records, bringing them back into rotation. But before long, I was distracted once again.

After a long lull during my bicycle racing obsessed college years, Remain in Light was periodically brought back into rotation for one reason or another. Most recently, it was the rising popularity of dance rock bands like the Rapture. The Talking Heads did that, and did it without resorting to the synth-heavy tactics favored by their new wave peers and most of today's resurgents. A couple of years ago, I was introduced to a great new band, Los Amigos Invisibles, signed to David Byrne's Luakabop label. Before that, it was Z-Trip and Radar's set at the Transmission Theater for San Francisco's now-seminal scratchaholic party, the Future Primitive Soundsessions, where they juggled "Once in a Lifetime" to great effect.

But the real reason the album has endured despite the constant assault of incessant influxes of fresh blood into my musical world is that it's really fucking good. It's moody without being whiny. Danceable, but musically sophisticated. Remain in Light is the Talking Heads' finest work; the peak before the plateau. It is sandwiched between two live albums, followed by solo projects from all members and only a few more studio albums.

Remain in Light's awesomeness was made possible by the formidable talent of the band and the amazing cast of collaborators. Years later, when I entered an "experimental" phase and developed a love for Adrian Belew, I realized he was responsible for many of the guitar solos on Remain in Light. As I read more about some of my favorite artists, many of them cited Brian Eno as an important influence. Wouldn't you know it, he was there too! Much later, as I explored music from '70s and that funky pop masquerading as jazz found on CTI, Kudu, and other now defunct great record labels, who should be playing percussion in Weather Report but Jose Rossy, also the percussionist for Remain in Light. After settling on hip-hop as my preferred genre, I can return to Remain in Light and David Byrne's post-modern rap about facts, truth and reality at the end of "Crosseyed and Painless". And now, as I explore the music of sub-Saharan Africa from the West African funk of Fela to Antibalas' and Tony Allen's reinterpretations of the same to soukous, Remain in Light stands as an early example of the same explorations by American artists.

The longevity of Remain in Light makes it an essential album for me. No matter how much I neglect it, it always comes back. It's not my first album; that honor goes to Men at Work and their smash debut Business as Usual. It's not my current favorite; that changes at least once a week. But Remain in Light's eclectic musical intellectualism suits me well, and I will continue to come back to it for as long my ears continue to function.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.