David Byrne Mitchell Cohen - Essay

Mitchell Cohen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Talking Heads have always—from their seven-inch start, "Love→A Building On Fire," a chain of logical emotionalism in which that arrow implied all—reminded me of the Bronx High School Of Science, which is probably why I've approached them with a mixture of attraction and wariness. Give a guy like Byrne a box of tinker toys and he'll build you a metropolis with a working sewer system; then, with colored pencils, he'll chart the links between the chamber of commerce and the red light district. A dangerous boy. On Remain In Light he's like a whizkid stoned on a whiff of the Famous Flames, caught in his own beat, mumbling disconnected phrases … on the stairwell. Not since Love's Arthur Lee has mulatto-rock sounded like it was concocted on a bunsen burner….

The more "contemplative" tunes on Remain In Light lack the propulsive persuasiveness of [the] side-one rave-ups but are not without their own concrete jungle swing and sway. The terrorist who "plants devices in the free trade zone" in "Listening Wind," accompanied by deceptive calm, "Seen And Not Seen"'s character … who meditates on the malleability of facial structure, the twilight zone domestic situation of "Once In A Lifetime" (with the eerie chant "same as it ever was"): all are real, and realized, subjective reaches. Only "The Overload," an overlong, over-obscure stretch …, dims the project….

It's all-hook, or anti-hook, depending on how you look at it. It's music that sounds cornered and liberated at the same time, and quirky beyond comprehension. Remain In Light is to these ears the first time that an album by Talking Heads is as likeable as the theory of Talking Heads is intriguing. The band is chasing something that may ultimately be out of reach, but at this juncture I wouldn't bet against them.

Mitchell Cohen, "Play That Funky Music White Boy," in Creem (© copyright 1981 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 12, No. 8, January, 1981, p. 52.