The prospect of a collaboration between David Byrne and St Vincent’s Annie Clark is an enticing one. Byrne, one of the late 20th century’s most artful musical alchemists – from Talking Heads and on through his solo music, film, art and theatrical works – meets a woman feted as much for the ingenuity of her arrangements as for her swoon of a voice. Potentially, a perfect cerebral pop pairing, but has the end product lived up to expectations?
It would appear, wonderfully, so. Chiefly constructed around brass band instrumentation, the pair manages to avoid the staid conservatism that this might suggest, instead imbuing Weekend in the Dust, Dinner for Two and Lightning with a rhythmic slink that is more indebted to funk and afrobeat than it is to Sousa or a Colliery Band. Ice Age’s jerk-funk rhythms exemplify the stylish, under-your-skin groove that informs the whole album.
Combined with this is the pleasing combination of the two protagonists’ vocals. Although Byrne’s distinctive voice initially dominates, eventually the beauty and flexibility of Clark’s vocals, and their central role, are revealed. Offsetting his discursive, conversational style (“I took a walk down to the park today”), her singing switches between sultry and tuneful (Who) and reflective and floating (the wonderful Ice Age), providing wonderful harmonies that elevate both the song and the spirit ( I Am an Ape).
The album, despite having no obvious overarching theme or plot-line, nevertheless feels like an integrated conceptual piece. Creating alluring word-images, like The Forest Awakes’ perpetual motion, circle-of-life pictures (“A Song is a road / A road is a face”) or I Am an Ape’s mysterious “statue of the man who won the war”, the feeling is generally playful yet profound. A few tunes – Weekend in the Dust, Optimist, touching album closer Outside of Space & Time – would not sound out of place in a Broadway show.
Love This Giant improves and deepens on each listen. Byrne and Clark have managed to not only meet but exceed expectations, and created one of the year’s smartest albums in doing so.
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