Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Remain In Light

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The first time I heard the Talking Heads was in 1980. The single getting airplay on the radio was the seminal track Once In A Lifetime, and my listening habits were changed forever. I went on to work my way retroactively to the earlier records, and kept up with the band all the way through their final LP, 1988's Naked. But I digress. Once In A Lifetime was this magical thing that sounded unlike anything else. Complex afropop rhythms collided with funk and disco beats. David Byrne's classic vocal performance was so unique, so oddly compelling, so freaking weird. I learned that this, of course, was nothing new - this being their fourth album. I couldn't get enough of the song. I bought the album and was confronted with such an artfully concocted brew of dance music, rock, and strange, spaced out atmospheres. And oh! those guitars - itchy rhythms, chicken scratch riffs - "tikka tikka tikk" answered with "tukka tukka tukk", panning around the headphones. The band is hotter than shit. The four Heads are aided and abetted by Brian Eno's endlessly creative ideas about sound and production in the studio, the sultry vocals of Nona Hendryx and the "herd of rampaging elephants" guitar stylings of Adrian Belew. Side A is all about the dance rhythms and percussion and taut, edgy funk. It is, IMO, one of the greatest album sides ever, perfect from start to finish, like side A of Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen or the Pretenders' debut. Side B is moody and downtempo and kind of creepy, where Eno's sonic wizardry is put to very good use - good stuff, but not as good as side A. Last week brought the moment I have been waiting for for about a decade - the release of the entire back catalogue in remastered and expanded form. You know what the first of the 8 CDs to get played was. It sounded fabulous. And when the first of the four previously unreleased tunes played I was mesmerized. They are all unfinished outtakes, but there's no mistaking the sound and the feel. It's fascinating to hear. Fela's Riff (Unfinished Outtake) is a Philip Glass like repetiton of riffing, layers of guitar fighting for space, some scratchy, some snaky and sinewy. I love the guitar at the beginning - it sounds like a keyboard at first, then explodes into an extended solo. Right Start (Unfinished Outtake) is an early version of Once In A Lifetime. There are no vocals, just lots and lots of guitars working on perfecting those riffs that became so familiar. It's ultra sparse but so damn groovy. The flip sides of these reissues contain 5.1 surround sound mixes of the album as well as videos and live perfromances, and it has been a real blast watching this stuff. This album in particular has the touring version of this band, augmented by Bernie Worrell and Steve Scales, cranking out some of the songs on a German pop music TV show. They sound remarkably tight. Very cool. Now all we need is reissues of the Tom Tom Club's first couple of albums, and a remastered and expanded version of the Brian Eno and David Byrne collaboration My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts - another seminal recording of the '80s.

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