Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Talking Heads, "Listening Wind" (1980)


More trials and tribulations of the contrarian: As often the case with me when favorite artists find success, I had a number of misgivings about the fourth album by Talking Heads, Remain in Light, arguably their breakthrough project artistically and maybe even commercially too. Certainly it delivered them to a wider audience, building on the hunger for wide-ranging source material that always drove the band and producer/collaborator Brian Eno, and certainly "Once in a Lifetime," "Houses in Motion," and "Born Under Punches" have become significant signature songs in the many years since, and yes, I've more or less embraced all that entirely. But the quiet and evocative "Listening Wind," which seems closer to Eno's Another Green World, remains the song on the album that never fails to win me over when it plays, a quiet insinuating thing of canny textures and effortless execution, moving along like a well-oiled buggy. The vocal line is chanting and rhythmic, opening up to a gorgeous moan on the chorus that is a pleasure to sing or roll one's head about with, and the instrumental is rich with grain and feel and the sweet touch of an undercurrent of urgency. It's way less complicated than the other songs on the album, almost a lullaby in effect, with numerous small pleasures that tell, never making a particularly big deal about it. I guess I thought the rest of the album was a kind of exercise in braggadocio—"Look at what we can do now," it demands by implication—whereas "Listening Wind" feels much closer to having absorbed something essential, now reflecting it back with preternatural poise.

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