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David Byrne - American Utopia CD (album) cover


David Byrne


Crossover Prog

3.85 | 7 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Both Talking Heads and its frontman David Byrne have the honour of being in the Archives, although very seldomly reviewed. I can't say either of them would have played a notable role in my listening history, quite the opposite really. Some months ago I borrowed several Talking Heads albums (after seeing the highly regarded Stop Making Sense concert film on TV) but frankly I found the music a bit boring. David Byrne as a solo artist is perhaps, for many of us, best remembered for his collaboration album with Brian Eno: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). Since that he has released albums in a steady pace, and this is his latest work.

American Utopia began as a series of Brian Eno's rhythm tracks turned into songs by Byrne, and a varying host of other collaborators putting their own ingredients on a song-by-song basis, The music could be classified as alternative rock with some sonic experimentalism, but not much progressive tendencies in the songwriting itself. The thoughtful production and World-flavoured rich arrangements are excellent and full of little details, and it that sense this album reminds me of Peter Gabriel's later output (Us, Up, etc.). The way Byrne's slightly restricted vocals -- not always very far from talking -- dominate and underline the textual/ideological side of the artistic impact bears a surprising resemblence to Roger Waters' Is This the Life We Really Want? (2017). Whereas that dark-toned album openly shows Roger's anger towards the shitty state of the world and Donald Trump in particular, Byrne imagines an alternative, happier version of the United States. Or in other words, he keeps on asking for better alternatives: "Is there another way? These songs are about that looking and that asking." My association to the Waters album came for both words and music, though. The biggest difference in music concerns the measures of darkness and light. If Waters's album sulks in anger and frustration, American Utopia sounds brighter and spacier spacier, although it avoids sounding naiively happy and light (although 'Every Day Is a Miracle' does have a calypso-like merriness).

Maybe I should point out that often I don't much pay attention to the contents of lyrics when I listen to rock; if they paint pictures in my head, that's great, but if they just sort of slip through me, that's OK because it's primarily the music I'm listening to. In this case, without the lyrics being printed, Byrne's undoubtedly intelligent thinking doesn't fully reach me. In the liner notes Byrne writes about 'outsider artists'. "For them it seems as if maybe a more ideal and beautiful world is about people?" Now, let's concentrate on music. 'I Dance Like This' is a two-faced song, a bit like Peter Gabriel's 'Darkness': calm and delicate vs. dense and threatening. 'Gasoline and Dirty Sheets' is a good example of the detailed soundscape and excellent production.

Without vocals 'Dog's Mind' (2:30) would basically be a gorgeously growing ambient instrumental of Brian Eno, and the vocals only make it even better. The basis of the arrangements are mainly built of keys, drums and drum programming, and what comes on top of that varies very nicely throughout the album. Here's, another album association: The Wrong Way Up by John Cale & Brian Eno.

With ten tracks around 3-4 minutes, the album is a bit short (37:23), but perhaps the feeling of the time passing too quickly indicates that American Utopia is a very fine album that doesn't reveal all of its tricks in a couple of listenings. If you like Peter Gabriel's detailed soundscapes and alternative artists such as Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno and John Cale, checking also David Byrne is well worthwhile, and with my thin acquaintance I believe American Utopia is Byrne at his very best. Especially when compared to my less-than-enthusiastic attitude to Talking Heads, I enjoyed this album much more than I expected.

Matti | 4/5 |


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