This album sounded ahead of its time for the best part of two decades. It is a groundbreaking record of the order of Revolver or Marquee Moon: one of the undoubted masterpieces of the whole rock era. Setting existential dilemmas to propulsive African rhythms, and offering global perspectives at a time when globalization was still much less advanced than it is now, Remain in Light is one of the most expansive and forward-looking records of that or any era.
Of particular note is the way that the music mirrors the themes. The first side is comparatively upbeat and vibrant, though dark shadows linger from the start. However catchy the rhythm of the album opener is, the title, Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On), reveals that the band is not offering a reductive idea of African music as celebratory and festive. Nonetheless, on side A, the rhythm is in the foreground and the themes of dispossession and alienation are less pronounced.
That all changes on the second side, which progresses from the suburban alienation of the all-time classic Once in a Lifetime through a number of jittery, avant-garde pieces to the stunning Listening Wind, a disturbing tale of a Native American man in the grips of despair and rage. From there we come to the Malthusian nightmare of The Overload, which David Byrne has said was a kind of tribute to Joy Division. This album ends on a warning note, with Byrne surveying some kind of future wasteland, his voice a mere croak of despondency. So much for happy endings.