On their first three albums, Talking Heads made anxious, self-aware art-punk with enough pop appeal to notch a couple of minor hits and edge toward the mainstream. Their landmark fourth album, Remain in light, was a radical departure that nevertheless felt like a continuation of and improvement on everything that had come before.
The album was born in a recording studio, where the group arrived song-less and ready to jam. This communal approach was curious, given that they had typically brought in nearly finished compositions. The producer, Brian Eno, constructed the tracks by looping rhythmic sections and layering instrumentation—a method that initially left the group’s frontman, David Byrne, unsure of how or what to sing.
Written and recorded mostly after the instrumentalists left the studio, Byrne’s songs have a freeform, impressionistic, cut-and-paste quality; but even so, Remain in light is a record with very recognizable—and very Talking Heads—themes of alienation and the search for identity.
Written and recorded by Al Green (guitarist Teenie Hodges gets a co-writing credit), Take me to the river straddles the line between sacred and secular—between sultry soul music and ecstatic gospel release. The sound is R&B with lashings of subtlety; it doesn’t sound like a band playing, it sounds like a lot of instruments humming.
Despite never being released as a single, Take me to the river was covered in turn by several other R&B musicians. Still, it took a band of CBGB-dwelling art school grads to fully realize the song’s potential.
Produced by Brian Eno, the Talking Heads version turns the original production inside out. In the original version, the strings, horns, organ, guitars, and Green’s wild-honey voice blend into a single swinging, winning thing, whereas the Heads/Eno version emphasizes open space and distinct sounds.
This according to “Take me to the river” by Tim De Lisle, an essay included in Lives of the great songs (London: Penguin, 1995 pp. 21–25; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1995-20152).
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