- David Byrne: b. 14/05/52, Dumbarton, Scotland
- Chris Frantz: b. 08/05/51, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, US
- Tina Weymouth: b. 22/11/50, Coronado, California, US
- Jerry Harrison: b. 21/02/1949, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US
//Before & After Remain in Light//
Am I alone in wondering whether there are multiple clones of that bald-headed geezer, that ambient guru Brian Peter George St. Jean le Baptiste de la Salle Eno? Is he an alchemist? For how is it that one man can be in the maelstrom of all that has been turned into Art with a capital A in music over the last thirty years or so? And here he is at it again, or a clone, popping up on the producer's credits on the most influential album ever released by a US band, Talking Heads' 1980 Remain In Light.
What an album! Even today, over quarter of a century since it was released, it remains fresh and challenging to the ear. For me, Talking Heads' whole career was a build up to this album and then, after, a slow descent into mediocrity.
And Eno is the man, for he followed this with My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a collboration with the band's ridiculously lean Dr. Neurotic, David Byrne, that is so nearly as good as Remain In Light it could almost be described Still In Light.
What of the band? They were formed in 74 by Byrne (vocals, guitar), Frantz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass). They moved to New York and played at CBGB. In 1976 they added Harrison (keyboards and guitar). Their first album Talking Heads: 77 quickly followed and with it the band's anthem, Psycho Killer, but it was in 1978 that in stepped Eno to produce their second album, More Songs about Buildings and Food (You have to view the album as a staging post to Remain in Light and if you do that then the album grows on you).
The Eno colloboration continued with 1979's Fear of Music. Deeper underground the journey seemed to go, for this was a dark album overall with the exception of the catchy Life During Wartime.
Then came Remain in Light. Once In A Lifetime was perhaps the first single to say that the pop song could be Art and the classic what came first the single or the video, I give you Byrne and the four Byrnes promotional video, reinforced that. Houses In Motion was all the way from AFRICA. Every moment, every song, told the listener that here was the future of music beyond our own worlds and beyond anything that we had ever known. It was in short: pure class. Getting Africa into your front room without the price of an air ticket.
//Life After Brian//
Thereafter, it was 'Thanks Brian, see ya Brian'. The album Speaking in Tongues (1983) was a commercial success and spawned Burning Down The House but what a bloody disappointment after Remain In Light. The tour to promote it was captured on film in Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense and proved what a captivating frontman Byrne was.
From thereon in, it was a slow death with very little sign of life. Three albums followed, Little Creatures (1985), True Stories (1986) and Naked (1988). With True Stories, the band covered the songs from the soundtrack of the Byrne comedy arthouse film which was, frankly, without comedy and had 'cult' tattooed all over it (i.e. no-one wanted to see it). Yes, the albums did ok in units sold but they seemed to me to be parodies of what the band had been about. The albums seemed lazy to be. Poppier than ever and just because they had Talking Heads stamped on them the band seemed to think that gave them more gravitas.
In short, Talking Heads had run out of ideas.
Looking back, what amazes me about the demise of the band was that it came about as the band became more and more the David Byrne band. With his genius I thought it would have been the other way round. But what do I know? Well, one think, you can't underestimate how important the other other band members were, in particularly Harrison.
Officially, the band broke up in 1991. In my opinion, they were over ten years earlier. The band members minus Byrne did release a one-off (thankfully) album, No Talking, Just Head under the name The Heads (clever) in 1996. The arty Byrne has pursued an arty solo career ever since; Weymouth and Frantz, a couple since 1977, have produced and given the world the Tom Tom Club; Harrison, the quiet one, has done what quiet blokes do, produce, and produce some great acts like Crash Test Dummies and No Doubt in the bargain.
In 2002 they played together at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And there is no clone of Eno. If there had been, then there must have been one spare to say to the band: 'Road To Nowhere? Why?'
© P. Page