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ProfileTalking Heads was a new wave rock band existing between 1974 and 1991, and composed of David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_Heads [Apr 2005]
Remain In Light (1980)
A review of Remain In Light by Ken Tucker, from Rolling Stone, 12/11/80, kindly typed up and supplied by Steve.
Seldom in pop music history has there been a larger gap between what black and white audiences are listening to than there is right now. While blacks are almost entirely uninterested in the clipped, rigid urgency of the New Wave, it's doubtful that more than a small percentage of ROLLING STONE's predominantly white readership knows anything at all about the summer's only piece of culture-defining music, Kurtis Blow's huge hit, "The Breaks." Such a situation is both sad and ironic, because rarely have the radical edges of black and white music come closer to overlapping. On one hand, the Gang of Four utilize their bass guitar every bit as prominently and starkly as the curt bass figures that prod the spoken verses of "The Breaks." On the other, Chic producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards choose to make Diana Ross sound as sullen and alienated as Deborah Harry. None of this has escaped the notice of Talking Heads, however, and Remain in Light is their brave, absorbing attempt to locate a common ground in today's divergent, often hostile musical community.
From the first, Talking Heads' contribution to the avant-punk scene they helped create was their emphasis on rhythm over beat. While the Ramones rockers banged and Blondies blared, the Heads' early songs pulsed, winding their way past jitteriness to achieve the compelling tension that defined a particular moment in rock & roll history - a moment when white rock fans wanted to dance so badly, and yet were so intimidated by the idea, that they started hopping straight up and down for instant relief. By 1978, punk and disco had divided the pop audience. What did Talking Heads do? They recorded Al Green's "Take Me to the River." The gesture was a heroic one.
Despite David Byrne's vocal restraint and certain puritanical tendencies in his lyrics to value work over pleasure ("Artists Only," "Don't Worry About the Government"), Talking Heads never stopped learning from the sensuous music that existed in a world parallel to theirs. On 1979's Fear of Music, they made a defiant connection with funk and disco in "I Zimbra" and "Life During Wartime," both of which aid in preparing us for Remain in Light's startling avant-primitivism.
On Remain in Light, rhythm takes over. Each of the eight compositions adheres to a single guitar-drum riff repeated endlessly, creating what funk musicians commonly refer to as a groove. A series of thin, shifting layers is then added: more jiggly percussion, glancing and contrasting guitar figures, singing by Byrne that represents a sharp and exhilarating break with the neurotic and intentionally wooden vocals that had previously characterized all Talking Heads albums.
Though the tunes take their time (side one has just three cuts), nobody steps out to solo here. There isn't any elaboration of the initial unifying riff either. Because of this, these songs resemble the African music that the band has taken great pains to acknowledge as Remain in Light's guiding structure. (An even bolder example of the African influence is My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, an LP recorded by David Byrne and Brian Eno that may never be issued in its ideal form. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts uses fixed staccato rhythm patterns in much the same way that Eno's early solo work built whole compositions around simple synthesizer clusters. In place of formal singing, the album substitutes "found" vocals: e.g., random voices taped off the radio. Indeed, one of these voices, that of evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman, threw the entire project into legal limbo with a threat to sue unless it was removed. Sire has indicated that the disc will probably be remixed, but no release date has been set. Which is too bad, because My Life in the Bush of Ghosts enhances the aesthetic of Remain in Light, and at least one of its selections, "Shaking with My Voice," is as strange and thrilling a piece of music as either Byrne or Eno has ever made.)
In addition to its African influences, Remain in Light also flashes the ecstatic freedom of current American funk, across which any number of complex emotions and topics can roam. In both "Born Under Punches (the Heat Goes On); and "Crosseyed and Painless," the rhythm lurches about while always moving forward, thrust ahead by the tough, serene beat of the bass and percussion. Throughout, instruments are so tightly meshed that its often difficult to pick out what you're hearing - or even who's playing. As part of their let's-rethink-this-music attitude, Talking Heads occasionally play one another's instruments, and guests as disparate as Robert Palmer and Nona Hendryx are enlisted. (By now, of course, producer Brian Eno can be considered a fifth Head.) Far from being confusing, however, such density contributes greatly to the mesmerizing power exerted by these elaborate dance tunes.
Though you can follow, to some extent, the story lines of, say, "Listening Wind" (in which an Indian stores up weaponry to launch an assault on plundering Americans) and the spoken fable, "Seen and Not Seen," Remain in Light's lyrics are more frequently utilized to describe or embody abstract concepts. Thus, beneath the wild dance patterns of "Crosseyed and Painless," there lurks a dementedly sober disquisition on the nature of facts that culminates in a hilarious, rapidly recited list of characteristics ("Facts are simple and facts are straight/Facts are lazy and facts are late...") that could go on forever - and probably does, since the song fades out before the singer can finish reading what's on the lyric sheet. Elsewhere, strings of words convey meaning only through Byrne's intonation and emphasis: his throaty, conspiratorial murmur in "Houses in Motion" adds implications you can't extract from lines as flyaway as "I'm walking a line - I'm thinking about empty motion."
In all of this lies a solution to a problem that was clearly bothering David Byrne on Fear of Music: how to write rock lyrics that don't yield to easy analysis and yet aren't pretentious. Talking Heads' most radical attempt at an answer was the use of dadaist Hugo Ball's nonsense words as a mock-African chant in "I Zimbra." The strategy on Remain in Light is much more complicated and risky. In compositions like "Born Under Punches" and "Crosseyed and Painless," phrases are suggested and measured, repeated and turned inside out, in reaction to the spins and spirals of their organizing riff-melodies. At no time does the music change to accommodate the completion of a conventional pop-song sentiment or clever line.
Once in a while, the experiments backfire on the experimenters. Both "The Great Curve" and "The Overload" are droning drags, full of screeching guitar noise thats more freaked-out than felt. Usually, however, the gambler's aesthetic operating within Remain in Light yields scary, funny music to which you can dance and think, think and dance, dance and think, ad infinitum.
Amos TutuolaMarshall McLuhan would have loved the concept: sample the global media blitz, edit, add polyethnic rhythm tracks, name the results after a novel by Nigerian author Amos Tutuola and recycle them into the blitz. Talking Heads' David Byrne and audio eclectic Brian Eno have made vocal tracks from snippets of radio broadcasts and Middle Eastern music (the way Robert Fripp turned his neighbors' fighting into "NY3"), then set them in and against percussive, repetitive mind-funk designed more for listening than dancing. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is an undeniably awesome feat of tape editing and rhythmic ingenuity. But, like most "found" art, it raises stubborn questions about context, manipulation and cultural imperialism. --Jon Pareles, Rolling Stone, 8/2/81
Remain in Light (1980) - Talking Heads
Remain in Light (1980)- Talking Heads [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Seldom in pop music history has there been a larger gap between what black and white audiences are listening to than there is right now. While blacks are almost entirely uninterested in the clipped, rigid urgency of the New Wave, it's doubtful that more than a small percentage of ROLLING STONE's predominantly white readership knows anything at all about the summer's only piece of culture-defining music, Kurtis Blow's huge hit, "The Breaks." Such a situation is both sad and ironic, because rarely have the radical edges of black and white music come closer to overlapping. On one hand, the Gang of Four utilize their bass guitar every bit as prominently and starkly as the curt bass figures that prod the spoken verses of "The Breaks." On the other, Chic producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards choose to make Diana Ross sound as sullen and alienated as Deborah Harry. None of this has escaped the notice of Talking Heads, however, and Remain in Light is their brave, absorbing attempt to locate a common ground in today's divergent, often hostile musical community. -- Ken Tucker, for Rolling Stone, 12/11/80
Remain in Light is an album by Talking Heads, released on October 8, 1980 . Featuring funky African rhythms, the album became an influential post punk, world music and New Wave recording. Remain in Light uniquely blended African-American, continental African and white American musical forms; Rolling Stone magazine's Ken Tucker noted at the time that there had rarely been "a larger gap between what black and white audiences were listening to". Living Colour's Vernon Reid describes its African polyrhythms: "Instead of alienation turning into dark angst it turns into celebration, the dance".
The music was produced on a multitrack tape machine with variable tape speed. The varispeed feature was indeed used by producer Brian Eno and the players. When David Byrne recorded the vocals to the already recorded rhythm tracks, he sped up the machine considerably. This speed-up was maintained when the mix was transferred to vinyl, and is the source of the nervous feeling. If one plays back the LP at a speed lowered by approximately 20%, the music becomes more expressive and danceable, and the lyrics become understandable, but the sound of the vocals and some instruments become slightly un-natural.
The single "Once in a Lifetime" sold poorly upon its original release but a quirky music video and its presence on the soundtrack to Down and Out in Beverly Hills helped make it a charting single and minor hit in 1986.
The album cover and liner notes were created by the notable graphic designer, Tibor Kalman. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remain_in_Light [Apr 2005]
In 2003 the TV network VH1 named Remain in Light the 88th greatest album of all time.
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) - David Byrne, Brian Eno [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Released in 1981, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a collaboration between ambient pioneer Brian Eno and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. On Ghosts, the two strong-willed musicians manage to come to a meeting of the minds, blending Byrne's herky-jerky funk with Eno's atmospheric sound sculpting. More than anything, this is a large album, intent on pushing itself to the front of the listener's consciousness. Abundant percussion (everything from booming tribal drums to eerie electronics) reverberates in the background while Byrne and Eno toss all manner of found sounds, field recordings, and radio broadcasts into the mix. What results is a groundbreaking album that introduced a generation to the dazzling possibilities offered by electronic recording techniques. Highlights include "The Jezebel Spirit," an electro-funk workout that uses a recording of an exorcism as its focal point, and "Very, Very Hungry," a mysteriously ethereal display of electronic percussion and large-scale sonic architecture. --S. Duda, amazon.com
- The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts - Amos Tutuola [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
What an experience. Accompanying the narrator, "Father of the gods who can do everything in this world," the reader escapes the difference between real or unreal, into where the two are the same. A book like none other i've ever come near, and i am not sure what i'd do if i did. There is no explanation, no need, just a story: creatures, trees, an alive bush, walking backward deads, menacing babies - one of which explodes from a thumb, trees within which lives "Faithful mother" who is faithful to all things - alive and dead, an egg that grants all wishes, much dancing, much music... So many things. This book is required reading for especially this, but every other, generation, for all "races" of folks, a book for which there can be no substitute. Purchase it, check out your local library, whatever, just read it. Then reread it. --Stacey/Chris via amazon.com
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