It barely matters that one of Miss Grace Jones’s two true masterpieces was recorded in New York City and the other in the Bahamas—both are imbued with the spirit of the Caribbean, and both are albums I kept returning to whilst marooned in India over the last month or so. Continue reading Compass points to the rhythm
I liked Hercules And Love Affair a lot, from the moment I heard “Roar”, right up until they released their second album, Blue Songs, when it all turned a bit rote. The best part of their first, self-titled, album was the sense that you were listening to a real-life band, making disco like it used to be made, to be played out in Studio 54. Come Blue Songs, and this sensation vanished, into the pulsating streams of Detroit.
Lucky, then, that three of the people who made their début such good fun have formed their own outfit, dubbed Jessica 6. Led by the transfixing vocalist Nomi Ruiz, this trio (flanked by Morgan Wiley on keys, and Andrew Raposo on bass) trade in a bleepy kind of house that’s equally indebted to P-Funk and disco. On teaser track “Prisoner of Love”, which also spotlights a guest turn from Antony Hegarty, the way the chorus vocals repeating the titular hook are stacked so high is straight outta the songbook of the greats. Think Chic, in a good way.
Maybe they don’t have the strength in depth that H&LA mainman Andy Butler displayed on the deeper cuts of his first album. Both “Prisoner of Love” and another teaser, “White Horse”, could perhaps be called skin-deep. But the unexpected breakdown a minute before the end of “Prisoner of Love” gave me second thoughts. And so I’m definitely considering the idea that their album, See The Light, could become this year’s Hercules And Love Affair.
I’ve finally got my hands on Talking Heads’ magnum opus, 1980’s Remain In Light, and my god it is funky. The first half of the album is built solely on repeating grooves, over which Byrne sings and mumbles about all manner of emotional and societal disconnection, while atonal squawks and whirring noises swirl around the ether. Many would regard Brian Eno’s great production feat as being U2’s The Joshua Tree – still the only album by said band that I can really palate – but I’d be willing to stake a claim for this masterpiece.
What struck me immediately about the album is just how brash it sounds, despite the sophistication of the music and lyrics lurking beneath. Exploding in with “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On), the pace and energy never really lets up. What sounds like a modem enters the song halfway through, with a weird, dazzling solo; African percussion fills up all the spare air, creating multiple layers of syncopation; towards the end, Byrne’s vocal tics resemble someone with epilepsy or Tourette’s – behaviour echoed by the frontman in the video for the album’s centrepiece, “Once In A Lifetime”.
The second half of Remain In Light takes on a more chilled-out vibe, using disconcerting washes of synth and discordant brass to create more tension. Finally, in the album’s closer, “The Overload”, we find a strange, Joy Division-inspired funeral march, which crawls at snail’s pace alongside waves of buzzing synth bass and undertones of keyboards. According to the album’s Wikipedia article, “The Overload” was indeed the band’s attempt at replicating the Salford quartet’s enviable sonic aesthetic, without ever having heard any of their music. It’s testament to the band’s songwriting variety and multi-talented instrumentation that the experiment works so well – far from sounding like a novelty party piece, it book-ends the album perfectly, sending a final farewell of anxiety to the listener in much the same way as “Decades” does on Joy Division’s parting shot, Closer.
Remain In Light, then, explores both sides of Talking Heads’ lyrical and musical concerns – it is at times deeply life-affirming; at other moments mid-life-crisis depicting. It is also perhaps the truest example of a collision of black music and white music, created at a time when the two disciplines never felt further apart. In that respect, we must of course thank the pioneering inroads made by Messrs. Byrne and Eno, which led to such a work. Last year, people heard Vampire Weekend and thought of Paul Simon’s Graceland. Though Remain In Light is undoubtedly a darker work than Vampire Weekend, maybe it is the more important antecedent in providing musical inspiration.