Monday, June 14, 2021

The last Sunset Blvd. billboard my father painted was Talking Heads ’77. While his artwork that graced the Strip was often complex (Yes’s Close to the Edge, The Doors’ L.A. Woman), TH77 was the simplest he’d ever done: a red-orange background with the words Talking Heads ’77 in a brilliant chartreuse. It wasn’t an album I would have picked up on my own but my father brought home a copy, which I still have. In 1979 I got More Songs About Buildings and Food and Fear of Music on cassette for the car. The latter saw the band explore new musical possibilities spurred on by producer Brian Eno whose input led to darker and more worldly themes – far less esoteric. Eno and David Byrne then collaborated on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and pushed further into the avant-garde with sampled vocals and instrumental loops.

By this point, Harrison, Weymouth and Frantz were aggravated, feeling like Byrne’s backing band. Frantz and Weymouth (married) discussed the possibility of leaving Talking Heads, but instead bought a home in the Bahamas near Compass Point Studios in Nassau. They realized that, like the Beatles with Abbey Road, there was only one way through the band’s tumult, working together. Convening at Compass Point, the collective decided to further pursue the world groove and in particular, Afro-funk, giving it a modern edge utilizing 80s technology. With this creative burst (Bryan and David both at their musical apex) Byrne endeavored to create lyrics using a stream of consciousness that one could compare to William S. Burroughs, but David was hard-pressed to get over a sudden writer’s block.

Due to this, few vocals were recorded in the Bahamas. The writing process for the lyrics only occurred when Byrne returned home to New York City. Harrison booked Talking Heads into Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound, and with Eno, the pair spent their time tweaking the compositions recorded in the Bahamas. Funny how genius is complicated. Remain in Light was an album that would teeter between the sublime and the unfinished. Again an Abbey Road comparison (I’ll hear about this ad infinitum), the recording sessions built up its pace with the recruitment of guitarist Adrian Belew at the bequest of Byrne, Harrison and Eno (for the Beatles, it was Billy Preston), and despite the hurdles, the sessions were laid down without further adieu.

With its melding of musical styles, Remain in Light is a perfect New York time capsule meshing post-punk, no wave, underground disco, funk, African and experimental sensibilities in a CBGB style. It was in a class of its own and critics and fans embraced it, as did MTV who put “Once in a Lifetime” into heavy rotation.

Remain in Light is what minimalism and repetition are all about. Talking Heads created an electrifying atmosphere of paranoia (I guess they always did). With every repetitive spider riff or tribal vocal phrase, the listener is mired deeper and deeper into the surreal. And that feeling that life is a Beckett play and you're watching it from behind a glass darkly doesn’t infringe upon the funk.

Is it the best LP of the 80s? The competition is great but, could be.

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