In post-punk 1980 Talking Heads left the pack standing with this seminal fusion of new wave sensibilities, Steve Reich-influenced polyrhythms, wall of sound production and virtual creation of world music. When, as was remarked at the time, black and white music had never been so far apart, “Remain in Light”’s ethnic inclusivity, radical eschewing of the verse chorus bridge structure and complex but felicitous wordplay were both the reason for its greatness and why it bewildered so many.
Its status has only grown and it remains one of the best conceived and designed, sequenced and performed and, very simply, greatest records of all time. And guess what? With this great sounding re-mastered release it sounds even better. While every track benefits from the fatter, fuller yet clearer sound, it is the second, less crazed and, structurally, more narrative, side which is transformed. The remarkable trumpet break in “Houses in Motion”, like a dubby elephantine shriek, sounds different in tone and timbre from the original release and “Seen and Unseen” is funkier while the once muddy spoken vocals are to the fore.
The four outtakes are of varying quality from interesting to excellent. Best is “Unison” with the rich chant of Byrne et al giving texture to the instrumentation. Most interesting is “Right Start” either a blueprint for or variation of “Once In A Lifetime”, the modernity of that distinctive bass-line not matched by the half baked array of sounds and squelches.
It is only on the DVD where I have technical and other gripes. Despite the proclamation that the disc “plays on all DVD players”, it will not play on my dvd player proper although it plays on my computer. On loading the crystalline menu music (from “Once In a Lifetime”) and clever album cover-inspired typography, reminiscent of Ed Rushia’s photographic work (although the band have denied familiarity with his work at the time) suggest that all is fine. However, my machine resolutely refuses to play a song whether I attempt to play the album or select a track. The track selecting facility takes one to a track other than that desired and, then, one is simply greeted with the, pretty revolting, graphic but, crucially, no sound. Pressing play, skip, back, menu or select has no effect and one is effectively locked into a non-functioning disc, the only way out from which is to turn off the dvd player.
Bizarrely the bonus videos play. Although both songs are apparently from the same German tv programme, they could not be more different. “Once in a Lifetime” is limp sounding and dated viewing, most amusing for Tina Weymouth’s confusion, contempt for her marginalized role and only approximately in sync backing vocals. The extended “Crosseyed and Painless” will be familiar to anyone who has seen “Stop Making Sense” and is a virtual blueprint for the realisation of what is the closing track from that wondrous concert dvd. The Photo Gallery, which is a minor diversion at best, also works. That there are no such problems on my laptop is small comfort.
This technical gripe aside, this is welcome release/re-mastering of an all time classic, by as guest guitarist, Adrian Belew, says in the liner notes “life’s hip soundtrack.” Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.