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David Byrne - American Utopia (Album Review)

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 Written by Ben Gallivan

David Byrne is feeling buoyant. Despite all that is wrong with the world (and the USA in particular), he is choosing to answer it with relentless positivity. The title ‘American Utopia’ isn’t exactly tongue in cheek; Byrne is clearly not happy about the way things are going but is certain that we can get to the bottom of the problem.

Back in January, he decided to go on tour. Naturally – being David Byrne – this was not a straightforward live show, but his Reasons to Be Cheerful set where he concentrated on all the good things that were taking place around the world – encouraging anyone who would listen to follow his lead. ‘American Utopia’ could be seen as the musical arm of that undertaking. The problem, though, is that even though Byrne is trying to banish worldwide negativity, this album may just add to it.

Unfortunately, it isn’t very good. It’s the first new solo music from Byrne since 2004’s excellent ‘Grown Backwards’, but in the intervening years he has completed sterling work on collaborative records with Brian Eno, Norman Cook and St Vincent, as well as spending a good deal of time on his writing.

Here we still get the eccentricities that you’d expect from a David Byrne album and, of course, you get that voice, but those quirks now seem a little dated and clumsy. Still, at least he’s trying to do something different.

While a lot of musicians of his vintage are touting ill-advised duet albums or covers of songs that mean so much to them, Byrne has penned 10 new, earnest, personal songs and opened them up for all to hear.

Starting off with I Dance Like This probably wasn’t the best move, though, as it’s one of the weaker songs here for a number of reasons – the main one being the jarring mix between piano-led verses and a horrific electro breakdown. The lyrics and their delivery are also a little embarrassing, really. Gasoline & Dirty Sheets offers a brief respite, but then the nonsense-for-nonsense’s-sake Every Day is a Miracle and the one-dimensional Dog’s Mind bring us back down to earth with a bump.

Later on, It’s Not Dark Up Here offers up a promising Talking Heads-style beat but sadly loses its way with very synthetic production. Suddenly – in the final quarter – the album springs into life. The production and varied instrumentation is used to good effect on Doing The Right Thing, while a little help from Eno and Sampha results in Everybody’s Coming To My House, one of the finest songs of Byrne’s solo career.

Great though it is, it doesn’t really save what is a scrappy affair. The casual listener may not even make it to the good stuff on ‘American Utopia’, such is the mixed bag that precedes it. Putting a positive spin on it, skip to track nine and enjoy yourself.

David Byrne Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu June 14 2018 - OXFORD New Theatre
Fri June 15 2018 - GLASGOW Royal Concert Hall
Sun June 17 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Symphony Hall
Mon June 18 2018 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Tue June 19 2018 - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Wed June 20 2018 - LONDON Eventim Apollo

Click here to compare & buy David Byrne Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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