This ain’t no party
David Byrne’s new album aims for good cheer, but the real world keeps interfering
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
David Byrne, below in 1983, releases American Utopia, his first solo album in 14 years