Remain In Light isn’t like many other albums. It was something of a hit, thanks to single “Once In a Lifetime” being the group’s entrypoint to MTV, and that song is still celebrated today. It was also a critical success, named one of the best albums of the ’80s or all-time by just about everyone, and with good reason. It’s a massive step forward from their arty but comparatively simpler albums of the ’70s. And they got here in just a few short years. To put into context, the band I’m in now only has a couple years to get to this elaborate, polyrhythmic Afrobeat phase. Guess we have some practicing to do!
It’s not like Remain in Light is monocultural though. It sold pretty well, but not Michael Jackson sales—it went gold in 1985, five years after the album was released. (Though their next three albums went Platinum, so certainly it elevated them to a new level.) And when an album is this experimental and takes such an artistic risk, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. It shouldn’t appeal to everyone.
But it blew my damn mind. I knew “Once in a Lifetime” from when I was really young. I was born in the early days of MTV, so it was already out there, established. I always had some idea of the reputation the album had, even if I hadn’t heard it, and eventually I bought the CD in high school from… Best Buy? Most likely that was the case.
The first spin of “Born Under Punches” was like hitting reset for my brain. Everything I knew about music was totally turned upside down. This track was repetitive, full of groove, but never got boring, never lost what made it exciting or interesting. It was urgent and intense, and I couldn’t stop listening to it. This, in turn, introduced me to Afrobeat, which that particular track (and several others on the album) were heavily influenced by (both David Byrne and producer Brian Eno have been major, outspoken advocates for African music over the years) and now I’m kind of addicted to Afrobeat, Afrofunk, Ethiojazz etc.
The rest of the album is amazing as well, and though I bought a handful of Talking Heads albums before I bought pretty much any other albums, this one took a little while to snag, and I think I paid more for it than the others (but this is also because of the changing market; back then nobody bought vinyl and it didn’t move quickly, while now an $8 Talking Heads album would go for $15 minimum probably).
I don’t really know anyone who actively dislikes Talking Heads, though I certainly know plenty of people who like them without loving them. Not me though. I’d easily consider them one of the greatest bands of all time, and musical geniuses. If they reunited, I’d go. If they headlined Coachella, which I actively avoid, I’d go. But it’ll never happen, simply because David Byrne is the kind of artist who isn’t interested in living in the past and rekindling old glories (though they did perform together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I can imagine it probably wouldn’t take long before there was some kind of disagreement).
In terms of what shaped my own musical tastes, cravings, and whatnot, this album is high on the list. Remain In Light is an album that can’t be celebrated enough.
Sound Quality: Great