This ain’t no party

David Byrne’s new al­bum aims for good cheer, but the real world keeps in­ter­fer­ing

Esquire (UK) - - Style -

Ear­lier this year, for­mer Talk­ing Heads front­man David Byrne set up a web­site called “Rea­sons to Be Cheer­ful”, named af­ter the Ian Dury song, but also a talk Byrne gave in New York in Jan­uary. His plan for the site, he said, is that it will be­come a source of pos­i­tive news sto­ries about small-scale ini­tia­tives that have led to gen­uine im­prove­ment in peo­ple’s lives. If we all pay at­ten­tion to each other, Byrne sug­gests, we can make the world a bet­ter place.

New solo al­bum, Amer­i­can Utopia, his first since 2004’s Grown Back­wards, has come from the same de­sire to pro­vide lit­tle stabs at hap­pi­ness when they seem hard to find. (“The songs are sin­cere; the ti­tle is not ironic,” Byrne has said.) There are plenty of de­light­ful and ec­cen­tric mo­ments on the record: the joy­ously rau­cous pseudo-techno of opener “I Dance Like This”, and the bizarre “Dog’s Mind”, about the bliss­ful lim­its of hu­man self-re­flec­tion. But a jubilant record this is not.

The last­ing im­pres­sion of Amer­i­can Utopia, which sprang from a record­ing ses­sion with Byrne’s older mucker Brian Eno, is not one of a blithe spirit at play, but of a deeply anx­ious, con­sci­en­tious hu­man strug­gling to find re­deem­ing fea­tures in a world that seems de­void of them. But it’s a noble ini­tia­tive for which Byrne should be com­mended.

‘We’re only tourists in this life,’ he sings on “Ev­ery­body’s Com­ing to My House”, ‘we’re tourists, but the view is nice’. He has a point.

Amer­i­can Utopia by David Byrne (Todomundo/Nonesuch Records) is out on

9 March

David Byrne, be­low in 1983, re­leases Amer­i­can Utopia, his first solo al­bum in 14 years

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