Review Summary: Experimental Done Right.
This review has been pre-approved by my lawyers, and brought to you by the Sputnik Writer's Union: united we are based, divided we are losers.
When it comes to genre-defying experimental music, the results can be extremely varied. For every album people like to suck off and act snobbish about, there will actually be a release that holds up to the insufferable standards that the neckbeards on this site have. Talking Heads’ 1980 release Remain in Light is….actually a pretty solid example of the latter. It’s not perfect, but this concoction of funk, punk, afrobeat, and ambient rock actually holds up today despite being over 40 years old.
“Once in a Lifetime” is the main single here, and while it was initially just a simple attempt to make a radio-friendly hit, it actually is the best track on this record. The straightforward, yet groovy baseline and catchy production has made this track an iconic listen that even the normiest of normies will appreciate. “Crossyed and Painless” and “The Great Curve” both stand out as energetic and captivating listens. These two tracks’ influence draws strongly from artists like Fela Kuti and James Brown, but Talking Heads are able to put their own spin on this piece of art. The chorus of “Houses in Motion” is sexy and sleek. “Listening Wind”, meanwhile, is a brief moment for the listener to catch their breath. This song features deep and emotional lyrics, a great vocal performance, and an unsettling combination of electronic, yet natural, chips and whistles. At times, the listener feels immersed in this strange world of clashing genres and mesmerizing emotion.
While this album soars, it does sink on occasion. Colton now might be the time to look away. Anyways, while the Talking Heads nail the funk and the upbeat energy, the immersion is broken by a few slower paced, weaker tracks. David Byrne is a solid vocalist but can be a bit melodramatic and almost paranoid at times – this comes off well most of the record, but can be a bit disjointed and uneven as well. “Houses in Motion” has a great chorus, but when Byrne retreats and awkwardly mumbles his verses, the song loses its energy and intrigue. These compositions are impressively assembled, but seem to lead nowhere. At times the production is overwhelmingly crunched, cluttered, and confusing , seen best on “Born Under Punches”. Part of this may be studio shenanigans by producer Brian Eno, but this doesn’t add to the record besides being experimental for the sake of being experimental. This is the reason experimental as a genre is overrated, and why so many attempts to make experimental music fail.
I read an interview while doing research for my Kid A review, where Thom Yorke said Remain in Light was one of his biggest influences and a “massive reference point” for the record. Unfortunately for Thommy boy, he completely fails to grasp what makes a record like Remain in Light such a timeless spin. Picking lyrics out of a hat and shitting out gobeldygook outsider art that is the musical equivalent of a three year old vomiting his cheerios on a blank canvas is Kid A's formula, but it doesn't apply to Remain in Light. The depth and genius behind this record lies so much deeper than a pretentious and forced clustefuck. When this album slags, it sucks, sure, but when it soars, it’s brilliant and sophisticated. Is this the greatest album of all time, probably not, but at least there’s an argument to be had for it. Talking Heads impressively draws upon several different genres in order to create a refreshing, yet natural concoction of sounds and ideas with Remain in Light. And I'm giving this one a 4/5. This is based and confirmed.