May David Byrne never retire. Though his pop albums likely quench a larger part of his fan base, his instrumental works nonetheless remain intriguing listens. His latest work along these lines, "Big Love: Hymnal," falls right in the tradition of his juicy non-pop work "The Catherine Wheel" (a largely early instrumental work), "The Last Emperor," "The Forest" and "Lead Us Not Into Temptation." Listeners who enjoy those albums will also swoon to this one. The music has a lilting pleasant quality at times reminiscent of The Penguin Café Orchestra. Byrne's unmistakable voice provides a thick layer of "oohs" to many tracks. The opening track, with its right-out-of-the-bible sounding title "Art Thou Greater Than He?" will dance among pleasure center neurons for hours. Be sure to "oooh" along.
Byrne's website states that these tunes were crafted after Mormon hymns. They played as incidental music for the HBO series "Big Love," though Byrne says he altered some tracks for better playability. Though not Byrne's most penetrating work (some of it does play like film or tv background music), it nonetheless provides more than enough interesting hooks and "oohs" to stand up to repeated listenings. As incidental music it must have been incredible. Many Byrne trademarks permeate the 21 tiny songs (all except one run under three minutes), including slide guitar, chunky strings, melodic horns, catchy guitar workings, and, as mentioned, the voice-as-instrument in the mix. Of course there's a big finale. Byrne explodes on the final track as... Elvis? No, he does not impersonate the ubiquitous perennially undead King, but he does play a moving interpretation of "Blue Hawaii." Yes, Byrne closes with a number from an Elvis movie. He pulls it off. This O'Henry ending surprises as much as his rousing "I Want To Dance With Somebody" from the "Live From Austin, TX" album. Though loads of great music fills this collection, the first and final tracks justify the cover price alone. Not to mention great song titles such as "The Breastplate of Righteousness" and "Exquisite Whiteness."
Long after the Talking Heads stopped recording (or talking), Byrne's chops remain solid. Apart from "Big Love:Hymnal" he also completed a collaboration with Brian Eno. The future is definitely today as this album, called "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," is available for download on a special website. Yes, the era of CDs, or possibly tangible music mediums altogether, begins to wane. But if that means more music from the likes of David Byrne, then let the future eat the present. Bring it on.