David Byrne - American Utopia
Asking fans to compare your new stuff to your best stuff from the past is a dangerous undertaking for aging artists like David Byrne. Yet that is exactly what He is asking you to do with this new album American Utopia. In interview Byrne has compared this album and the ensuing tour to the best from The Talking Heads, which is... kind of crazy. That's David Byrne though, always bombastic, artistic and very aware of his own place in culture. That is one of the things I have always struggled with when it comes to David Byrne, He is so keenly aware that He is trying to make important music yet coming across as though He is just stumbling on to these things. That is why the collaboration with St. Vincent felt a bit off kilter, they just exist on different wave lengths and Byrne's prestige allows him to almost fully take over. From the first track you realize this is going to be a very David Byrney album, complete with warbly singing and some eye roll inducing moments. He is almost daring you to not like his music with this elitist optimism. ON American Utopia Byrne believes He has the answers to all of modern life's issues and sees the silver lining in it all while confronting issues like too much internet, a lack of true connectivity as well as more palpable issues like police violence and The President (of course, did you really think this album was gonna avoid talking about Trump?). The first track begins with this swirling ethereal sound feeling more in line with Byrne's age, but then breaks out into electronic dance beat that would be kind of cool if it wasn't David Byrne. I don't know why but I kept coming back to Bowie's final album when listening to this. It reminded me just how well Bowie managed to age, and create signification and powerful music right up until the literal day He died. That's the sort of art we want, that sort of connection to both himself and his fans, but Byrne seems to exist in his own world outside of our day to day, for better or worse.
One of the singles from the record "Everybody's Coming To My House" actually showed a ton of promise because it was so direct and concise. The beat is fantastic and exploratory with the ending leaving you wanting more. It is when Byrne gets overly verbose or tries to force a dance beat in where things feel awkward and clunky. For an album of only 37 minutes you would expect it to really cook, but Byrne meanders with his vocal so damn much. The final track "Here" begins with this really interesting half electro half analogue beat but his vocal ruins it all because He sings it just like He sings on every other damn song. There are so many times on this record where you find yourself asking: do I like this or do I like this because I should like this? It's a question I'm sure a lot of people asked when the Talking Heads were doing their thing as well. The art lover in me thinks maybe I am missing something and I should dive deeper and give American Utopia more of a shot. Yet there are the songs like "Everybody's Coming To My House" that instantly connect and you understand why Byrne is a legend. We know He can do better because He does do better on this very album. It's a shame that this album has little pieces of gold buried amongst all this confusion, but it does.
6.0 out of 10