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Music / Remain in Light

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"And you may say to yourself, well, how did I get here?"

Remain in Light, released in 1980, is the fourth album from Talking Heads. Its their third and final album to be produced by Brian Eno, after More Songs About Buildings and Food and Fear of Music. Eno split with the group as a result of the album's Troubled Production and disagreements with frontman David Byrne about their solo project My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

A radical departure from Talking Heads' previous albums, Remain in Light combined the band's signature Post-Punk and New Wave Music riffs with dense polyrhythms inspired by Nigerian Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti. This effective combination of widely disparate sounds garnered downright rapturous critical acclaim for Talking Heads, who had already been critical darlings before that point. Along with Peter Gabriel's third Self-Titled Album, released the same year, Remain in Light marked a change in direction for New Wave rock, looser and more open to African and other "ethnic" influences.


Remain in Light produced a single, "Once in a Lifetime", that didn't set the world on fire. Within a couple years, however, it had become one of the band's signature songs, due in part to its Surreal Music Video, which got heavy rotation on the fledgling network MTV. The album was listed at #129 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and is generally considered the band's studio masterpiece (although some fans and critics rank the band's live recordings Stop Making Sense and The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads even more highly). The album was also certified gold (sales of over 500,000 copies) by the RIAA.



Side One

  1. "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" - 5:46
  2. "Crosseyed and Painless" - 4:45
  3. "The Great Curve" - 6:26

Side Two

  1. "Once in a Lifetime" - 4:19
  2. "Houses in Motion" - 4:30
  3. "Seen and Not Seen" - 3:20
  4. "Listening Wind" - 4:42
  5. "The Overload" - 6:00

Take a look at these tropes!

  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: "Crosseyed and Painless" features a bridge in which David Byrne raps about facts, rattling off multiple supposed attributes of them, many of which are idiosyncratic and contradict one another (i.e. "facts are simple and facts are straight; facts are lazy and facts are late").
  • Broken Record: "Crosseyed and Painless" and "Once in a Lifetime" both feature two sections where a single phrase is repeated ad nauseum, those respectively being "I'm still waiting" and "same as it ever was."
  • Call-Back: The line "I'm not a burning building" in "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" refers to "Love → Building on Fire", Talking Heads' debut single from 1977.
  • Changed for the Video:
    • The video for "Once in a Lifetime" omits the third verse (the "water at the bottom of the ocean" one).
    • "Crosseyed and Painless" is also subject to this: Byrne's rap bridge is drawn out for much longer in the music video, continuing through the outro and featuring extra lyrics not present in the album version; these extra lyrics were also featured in live performances during the Remain in Light tour.
  • Concept Video: "Crosseyed and Painless" has one, featuring real street dancers miming scenes of hustling, knife crime, posing, body popping, solicitation and street fighting. Notably, the band is completely absent from the music video, at David Byrne's request.
  • Cover Version:
    • Phish has covered the album in concert.
    • Angélique Kidjo released a cover of the entire album in 2018 that more prominently emphasized the songs' African influences; according to her, the idea to do so was born out of her own immediate recognition of the songs as afrobeat back when the Talking Heads version was first released and her feelings of encouragement by the band's homage to the genre.
  • Epic Rocking: "The Great Curve" and "The Overload" are over six minutes long. "The Great Curve" particularly stands out for being Talking Heads' longest song ever, at 6:26.
    • Due to an extended fade-out, at least one 5.1 mix of "The Overload" is actually closer to 8:30 long.
  • Face on the Cover: Head shots of the band members, but with their faces obscured by digital blotches of red ink.
  • Funk: A major influence on this album, particularly in its basslines and drum patterns.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The congas in "The Great Curve" bounce between speakers for the duration of the song.
  • God-Is-Love Songs: "The Great Curve" is about an immense divine feminine figure who "loves the world, and all the people in it."
  • Hollywood Mid-Life Crisis: Word of God states that "Once in a Lifetime" is about the mentality that leads to one, which frankly makes the lyrics much more coherent.
  • Humanshifting: "Seen and Not Seen" is a quirky, somewhat paranoid take on the subject.
  • In the Style of...:
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Take a look at these hands!" from the first track, "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)".
  • Musical Squares: The cover has photos of the four members arranged on a grid, with their faces painted red.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: "Once in a Lifetime" is the Trope Namer. The final verse ends with the line "And you may say to yourself 'My God, what have I done?'".
  • New Sound Album: While "I Zimbra" from Fear of Music was a small experiment in afrobeat, Remain in Light threw the band into the genre whole-hog. Byrne acknowledged this at the first concert appearance of the expanded lineup, saying "We don't sound like we used to."
  • Nothing but Skin and Bones: "I'm so thin... I'm too thin," from "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)"
  • Post-Rock: "Seen and Not Seen" is an odd Ur-Example, presaging the "monotone spoken-word mumbling over droning instrumentals" variety that Slint would pioneer with Spiderland more than a decade later.
  • Rearrange the Song: Live versions of the songs on this album were made even funkier in concert, as the The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads live album attests. "Crosseyed and Painless" had a slower intro before launching into the song.
  • Record Producer: Brian Eno. The final Talking Heads album he produced.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The line "The center is missing" from "The Overload" echoes "The center cannot hold" from W. B. Yeats' "The Second Coming".
    • The album received one in the season 3 Millennium episode "Borrowed Time", in which a near death experience support group is called "Remain in Light".
    • Nine Inch Nails' logo is based on the typography on the cover.
    • The repeating synth riff in "Once in a Lifetime" is reminiscent of Philip Glass. The Hammond organ part in the climax is based on "What Goes On" by The Velvet Underground.
    • The rap bridge in "Crosseyed and Painless" is an homage to old-school hip-hop, particularly Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks".
    • The outtake "Fela's Riff" is an obvious shout-out to Fela Kuti. The whole album was influenced by his sound.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Byrne does this several times throughout the album.
    • In "Once in a Lifetime", he preaches during the verses and sings during the choruses.
    • "Seen and Not Seen" has Byrne narrating a short story over a musical backdrop.
  • Surreal Music Video: "Once in a Lifetime" has Byrne making some bizarre movements.
  • Villain Protagonist: "Listening Wind" is about a terrorist who wants to drive Americans out of his unnamed country, although he's portrayed in a somewhat sympathetic light. (So, basically an anti-villain protagonist, or maybe even an antihero protagonist depending on one's political sympathies.)
  • World Music: Alongside Peter Gabriel's self-titled third album (also released in 1980) this album is generally considered the point where world music influence began to permeate mainstream rock music. This trend would arguably reach its peak in Gabriel's So (1986) and Paul Simon's Graceland (also 1986). David Byrne himself would explore the genre more in his solo career and his collaborations with Brian Eno, such as My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Example of: