David Byrne American Utopia Nonesuch / Todo Mundo
Like all of us, David Byrne is living through a traumatic chapter in American history. Given the daily agony of the Trump Presidency, American Utopia will likely strike many as an ironic, embittered title for his first true solo LP since 2004’s Grown Backwards. However, the sunny opening chords of I Dance Like This quickly establish that in spite of everything, Byrne’s heart is still warm, and filled with hope. “I’m working on my dancing/ This is the best I can do” he croons. Far from despairing, American Utopia’s many-faced art-pop sincerely entertains the possibility of better worlds, even on the verge of the superpower’s collapse.
This sincerity won’t appeal to everyone. For such weighty subject material, some of Byrne’s lyrics can seem irreverent. “Doggy dances doing doodie/ Doggy dreaming all day long” we hear on Dog’s Mind, a line delivered in two-part harmony over cinematic sweeps of choir-like synths. Other times, his musings seem awkwardly random, such as the references to chickens, roosters and donkey dicks on Every Day Is a Miracle – an otherwise uplifting track with tropical overtones that recalls the eccentric joy of the Talking Heads. Combined with a rich choral arrangement and a typically off-kilter break, the result is strangely tasteful.
What rubs some up the wrong way will doubtlessly be enjoyed by others, particularly those already familiar with the childlike charm which has always featured in Byrne’s music. On times, it remains his best quality – Everybody’s Coming to My House bristles with naive excitement and anxiety, driven by upbeat percussion that swings over the top of a mournful drone of woodwind. It’s a standout moment on an otherwise pleasing body of thoughtful songwriting.