David Byrne has not released a solo record for fourteen years, although he has been busy all that time: musically he released collaborations with Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim and St. Vincent. They’re of singular (combined) visions but ultimately they’re good pop records, so listening to American Utopia can induce a bit of whiplash. Oh, right, he can do weird. Yes, the former Talking Head’s latest is challenging. It’s something you learn right at the very beginning, the way “I Dance Like This” uncomfortably oscillates between tempered and freaked out. You’d take a while to settle down: you will have to slog through relatively experimental songs before you understand the catchy nature of the tunes – “Everybody’s Coming To My House” is an example, but then it’s perhaps because it’s the single you hear often, and also, it comes towards the end, so by then you’re more tired than looking forward to something. But you have to give David credit. In an alternate universe he would be a veteran content with sitting on his laurels. American Utopia, still addressing themes of human disillusionment in these changing times, proves that he works his darndest to remain present. [NB] | 3/5
These are not ideal circumstances, I must admit, but when former president Ferdinand Marcos – dictatorial, controversial, polarizing thirty years on – was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani yesterday despite a flurry of opposition from critics fearing historical revisionism, I ended up thinking of all the songs that were inspired by the Philippine strongman. He ruled the country for twenty years, brought it defining infrastructure projects, drained its coffers and deprived its people of basic rights – and that’s a very simple way of putting it. I’m a guy of nuance, but the debate around this hasn’t been filled with, although we all universally agreed at one point that we will not go back to this. And now, here we are, arguing again.
“Finite = Alright” by David Byrne | I stumbled on this song while listening to the first episode of Blue Jam, Chris Morris’ surreal comedy show back in the late 90s. It originally aired in the early hours on Radio 1 – which partly explains the downtempo soundtrack in between sketches about curing some penis thing with a kiss – and it just feels so modern yet so very much of its time. It’s, well, weird. Now, I know recordings of the programs have been on YouTube for years, but Radio 4 Extra is finally airing them again, music and all. First episode’s no longer on listen again, but it’s still on YouTube, albeit without the songs. Also, the second’s right here, and you can catch it Friday nights at eleven. Or, in my case, Saturday mornings at seven. As for David’s song, well, you can see his fascination with mortality and humanity here – a theme that’s really prevalent with his post-Talking Heads stuff. [NB]
“Like Humans Do” by David Byrne | And speaking of songs about aliens… okay, fine, this is not about aliens, although David Byrne describes this song as one written from the perspective of a Martian. But you’ll remember this more as the song that came free with every installation of Windows XP, and for me, this song is my introduction to the Talking Heads. But that’s another story. For now, we kiss with our… err… [NB]
I was a bit wary when I first heard of David Byrne and St. Vincent’s collaboration, Love This Giant. Sure, they’re not miles apart style-wise, but hearing brassy “Who” made me curious if they’d ever slot in together. They do. The album has an interesting vibe to it: the decision to go for brass-heavy arrangements complements Annie Clark’s coo and David Byrne’s bite nicely, best heard in the second track “Weekend in the Dust”. The album continues and you’d notice that the two blend quite nicely together. But it’s not all perfect: there are moments when you feel the brass wasn’t fully taken advantage of, and later in the album you’d get the feeling that this is a David Byrne project with a bit of St. Vincent on the side. A bit of an unfair assessment, really, but it’s lacking the flourish Annie does ever so often. | 3/5