Last modified 12.12.02021

Remain in Light Talking Heads

Album review by André Dack, Frederick O'Brien, and Andrew Bridge


Remain in Light is a sheer delight to listen to. It thrives on its character, never ceasing to be thoroughly entertaining. The opening portion of the record springs along with a playful energy, and the second half is a haze that floats by at its own steady pace, drawing comparisons to albums of a similar era such as David Bowie’s Low.

The music supplies a wonderful backdrop, fuelled by percussion and driven with intricate polyrhythms, but the heart and soul derives from David Byrne, who recites with humour and wit, at the brink of cynical satire. His lyrics are sharp and insightful, at times highly comical, and his delivery is exceedingly expressive. Byrne’s wonderful wordplay combines with the minimal funk aesthetic to create one of the most joyous sound displays of anxiety you’re ever likely to hear on record.

Naturally, Brian Eno’s production is fantastic, and remains a core reason as to why Remain in Light still sounds so good. Many tracks are incredibly dense — impenetrable yet captivating — with African percussion being a prominent and distinct feature. Eno’s work allows space for the first segment of tracks to be flavoured with brilliantly erratic guitar work by Adrian Belew, before shifting the focus onto more textural and atmospheric songs that permit Byrne to channel his inner chronicler. It’s a change of pace that the album greatly benefits from, though the closing track can sometimes feel like an awkward and inelegant way to finalise proceedings.

This aside, Remain in Light is remarkably accessible for something so bold and experimental. It ultimately ends up being endlessly listenable more than anything else, and stands as one of the major highlights of the early ’80s. It ticks along with a confident twitch that has inspired many of today’s great artists — with its lasting legacy, it continues to remain in the light.

8 out of 10

Favourite tracks // Listening Wind ­The Great Curve ­Crosseyed and Painless


Talking Heads cast a long shadow, and Remain in Light is a huge reason for that. Little about the album is uniform, yet it endures as one of the most airtight musical projects there is. This is one for the audiophiles. Under the Midas wing of Brian Eno, Talking Heads juggle African genres with Western experimentation and innovative digital play, glazing the whole affair with almost delirious David Byrne lyrics and delivery.

The opening half of the work, culminating in the timelessly wonderful “Once In A Lifetime”, makes for a pulsating funk, whilst the latter settles into a more ruminative, enveloping aura. I tend to find myself drawn more to the opening tracks, but preference is nothing if not changeable on a work like Remain in Light. The whole record vibrates restlessly in the overlap between cerebral and spiritual, and what you click with at a given time will depend entirely on where you’re at. This is a record to be loved in the moment, provided that the moment is right, and deeply admired and enjoyed in the meantime. A gorgeous record, as vibrant and fresh today as it was in 1980(!).

8 out of 10

Favourite tracks // Once in a Lifetime ­Born Under Punches ­The Great Curve


If nothing else can be said for Remain In Light, it’s a lot of fun to listen to. Fortunately, despite this being my first exposure to a Talking Heads LP, I’ve found a lot more to like. With strong influences of Cuban and African music and high energy from the opener, the album is sun-soaked and has a focus on rhythms and drum patterns that make up a huge part of this energy.

David Byrne’s vocals remain distinctive throughout as he experiments with spoken and sung lyrics, contrasting particularly well in “Houses in Motion” as Tina Weymouth’s bassline leers into each new phrase underneath. “Once in a Lifetime”, which to this day receives regular playtime on the radio, manages to sound uplifting and frivolous on the surface while delivering lyrics that are quite at odds with this, adding depth that may otherwise be missing from an album like this. The whole record was a result of a great deal of experimentation and the realisation of a changing landscape at the time. This has done wonders for Remain In Light, still sounding fresh and exciting while maintaining a familiar sound, intrinsic of its time.

All this comes together to produce a great album that should be damn good fun to listen to and, technically, has some impressive highlights all round. I’ll certainly be diving into the rest of the discography.

9 out of 10

Favourite tracks // House In Motion ­Crosseyed And Painless ­Born Under Punches