David Byrne is still a unique character in modern music.
Label: Nonesuch Records
Released: 9th March 2018
David Byrne is back! And he’s really back this time, not just making a strange opera about Imelda Marcos!
‘American Utopia’ is Byrne’s first solo album in 14 years, and ties in with his recent Reasons to be Cheerful talks, which try to find optimism in the world around us. The album itself seems less sure of its own happiness, with Byrne explaining: “Many of us, I suspect, are not satisfied with that world – the world we have made for ourselves. We look around, and we ask ourselves – well, does it have to be like this? Is there another way?”
This search for answers runs through the whole of ‘American Utopia’, providing a melancholy backdrop to an often funny, silly and absurd album.
The record itself is a mixed bag, feeling like a stream of consciousness put to music. Byrne flits between topics, exploring existential thoughts on freedom (‘It’s Not Dark Up Here’), dogs as a metaphor for human limitations (‘Dog’s Mind’) and what heaven would be like for a chicken (‘Every Day Is A Miracle), to name just a few.
Unfortunately, the off-the-wall lyrics aren’t always backed up by the delivery. Songs like opener ‘I Dance Like This’ and ‘Every Day is a Miracle’ seem to drag on far longer than their run times, in no small part because of Byrne’s slow, meandering vocals. The contrast between these weaker cuts and the energy of lead single ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’ is marked, with Byrne playing to his strengths on the latter with sharper, stabbing vocals which add an urgency missing from the weaker moments on ‘American Utopia’.
That said, David Byrne is still a unique character in modern music. Even the most lacklustre offerings on this album are worth listening to for the lyrics alone, and at its very best ‘American Utopia’ features some of Byrne’s most accessible, most fun and (whisper it) most Talking Heads songs in years. Jake Hawkes