on 29 August 2010
All artists go through extended periods of experimentation after which they start producing records which are informed by their experimental findings rather than obsessed with them (As Bowie did with Scary Monsters and Let's Dance). This is really Byrne's first record which isn't dabbling in some subgenre or other, unlike the preceding "Rei Momo" and "Uh Oh". There is no big Steve Lilywhite production here and everything is much more stripped down with the vocals more upfront than usual for Byrne. This compliments the general mood here which is bleak and pessimistic.
Like the black monochrome cover the themes are generally dark and filled with creeping paranoia, in stark contrast to the cheery optimism of 'Uh Oh'. This album doesn't even have a title for goodness sake. The opening track "A Long Time Ago" hints at a post Aids youth culture filled with empty discos, much like the Specials classic "Ghost Town". The lead single "Angels" is brighter and would be gobsmackingly good were it not for the sneaking suspicion that it is a musical cousin of his own "Once in a Lifetime". (I saw him live in 1994 and that's what everyone thought he was about to launch into on hearing the opening riff.) The highlight for me though, is the excellent "Crash" where finally the record seems to catch fire. Weird production, great lyrics and you feel that Byrne has come up with something exciting. Again the world is viewed from a dark place with Byrne meditating on homelessness, war and funerals which turn out to be central themes of the record. "Self Made Man" explores the murky themes of genetic engineering and "Back in the Box" seems to be about a fear of living and a desire for the grave. "Lilies of the Valley" is also a highlight and is about the human cost of our priveleged Western lifestyle. Even "You and Eye", while upbeat, is still about the South American day of the dead and perhaps would have been at home on the "Rei Momo" album. All and all though this record peters out of energy in the second half. The dark themes paired with the spare production makes for bleak listening, much in the vein of Bonnie Prince Billy's "I see a Darkness". However, unlike that record, "David Byrne" spreads its ideas a little too thinly to merit more than 3 stars.