Whichever way you look at it, you’ve got to agree that to cover an album that the US Library Of Congress deems culturally and artistically significant, that some say is one of the best albums of all time and that most agree is at least one of the best of the 80s is a pretty ballsy move. The fourth album by innovative art-rock band Talking Heads, ‘Remain In Light’, was highly regarded at the time of its release and to this day gives rise to much critical acclaim, is regularly referenced and is seen as a pivotal influence on many acts that have been born in its wake.
When Brian Eno introduced Talking Heads to the music of Fela Kuti the band took that influence and ran with it in a new direction for them at the time. The African rhythms, electro nuances and funkier elements on the album helped establish it as a seminal game changer for the face of popular music. Nearly forty years on, Angelique Kidjo has decided it’s time to re-work the entire album track by track and sympathetically reflect it back on the sounds that gave rise to its inception.
Angelique, a three time Grammy award winner herself, is not without her plaudits, the Guardian having listed her as one of the ‘Top One Hundred Inspiring Women In The World’ and Forbes as ‘among The Top Forty Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa.’ A resident of New York, but Benin born, Angelique says of the project, “I want to pay back the homage and create my own African take on Talking Heads’ songs. Now is the time to bring rock back to Africa, connect our minds, and bring all our sounds to a new level of sharing and understanding.”
Kidjo certainly has the voice and musical artistry to deliver on her promise and by bringing in super-producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye/Drake/Swift/Perry etc), the entire project has been afforded the support and credence it deserves. ‘Remain In Light’ has been lovingly re-crafted, re-interpreted and re-imagined to bring a seminal 80s classic back to the future with a sound that empathetically celebrates each song and gives it a current and fresh perspective.
A shorter than original version of ‘Born Under Punches’ starts the sequence of tracks, just as it did back in 1980. Angelique’s vocal sits above a bolder soundscape that is brought more to the fore than on the Talking Heads track. Everything about the arrangement exudes a more confident approach, one without timidity and one that is wholeheartedly embracing of the material. The vocal, Afro-beat percussion and scuzzy, electro bass provide an intoxicating mix to the lead track.
When you get to the two, possibly most popular and fondly remembered, tracks on the album there is a brief moment of justifiable apprehension to be had before the first beat drops. ‘Once In A Lifetime’ and ‘Houses In Motion’ are among a handful Talking Heads tracks that helped define the band. To ‘cover’ such tracks without replicating them, by attempting to give them a new lease of life without sullying the original is no mean feat. ‘You may ask yourself, how do I work this?’, indeed.
Apprehension is quickly belayed as you can’t help but be taken in by the intoxicating rhythms and infectious beats set to Angelique’s rasping, soulful vocal. ‘Once In a Lifetime’ is more sung than on the close to spoken word original, chorus aside, and captivates in a wholly immersive way. The intermittent brass and revolving soundtrack are utterly compelling as Kidjo’s vocals flow joyously across the instrumentation. ‘Same as it ever was’… well, no, the same but different; new and full of happiness and festivity with a killer brass close out to steal the show. The horns continue through in a big, bold way on ‘Houses In Motion’. Where the original was funky bass, jangly guitar riffs, using restrained and subdued brass, this latest interpretation brings the horns out centre stage, slows the bass to a walking pace but still sees Angelique’s vocal given a similar opportunity to use the conversational vocal interplay found on the Heads original.
Each of the tracks on the new ‘Remain In Light’ more than does justice to the originals. These are not copies, not covers really, they are re-interpretations from an artist who can hear where they took their inspiration from and is clearly able to apply that heritage. When she first moved to France from Africa in 1983 and heard ‘Remain In Light’ Angelique was derided for saying that, “there’s something African to it”, but she obviously shouldn’t have been as that’s where the record took a heavy dose of its influence.
Kidjo has now delivered ‘Remain In Light’ back to its roots with a contemporary, soulful and impassioned take a beloved album. There’s a celebration going on, a carnival of musical appreciation and an energy that permeates throughout and it’s a wonderfully uplifting album to hear.