There are moments of gloom and uncertainty, but ‘American Utopia’ turns the road to nowhere into the road to hope
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On March 9th 2018, David Byrne appeared on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’. He discussed which American politicians could have musicals written about themselves, and the idea that positive change can come from the unlikeliest sources. The latter demonstrates Byrne’s recent endeavour, to find “reasons to be cheerful under Trump”, specified by Byrne with some anxiety, numerous swift head shakes and strange glances, illustrating that he has been, and forever will be, a man whose head is constantly filtering ideas, and a man taking the stage to wrestle with the world’s uncertainties.
‘American Utopia’ is David Byrne’s first solo release in approximately fourteen years, and it is by far the former Talking Heads singer/songwriter’s most politically-charged project yet. He isn’t mindlessly slamming the current U.S. government, he’s a man of experience, and with that experience, and a good deal of his trademark creativity sprinkled in, he’s used his uber-imaginative pallet of paint to drum up insight into the current state of the United States.
‘Utopia’ is a concept album built on questions and hypotheticals – Byrne’s oddball croon delivers statements made up of bizarre rhetoric on tracks like ‘Every Day is a Miracle’ and ‘Dog’s Mind’. The former details the more-or-less absent reactions of animals to religious and political motion; “the pope don’t mean shit to a dog, and elephants don’t read newspapers”. ‘Doing the Right Thing’ takes a look at how we, as ordinary guys, should attempt to stand up to reel in change, while questioning whether or not it really is worth it, “what am I supposed to do now? What’s that? And is it my business”, sings Byrne, asking whether his sense of unity and vow to “do the right thing” is effective, or if he is simply a talking head…
‘Bullet’, with uneasy detail, describes a bullet passing through a human body, presumably at the hands of some sort of psycho killer. ‘Everybody’s Coming to My House’ serves as the record’s very own crescendo piece, a danceable, horn-driven art popper, that lovingly commends the process of returning home, with the feeling of sentimental victory that highlights how beautiful even the smaller things like “rolling down the window” are. The tune is quintessentially Brian Eno, with a joyful mix of overlapping percussion patterns, and overall larger-than-life feel.
Musically, ‘Everybody’s Coming to My House’ isn’t where the fun ends. ‘I Dance Like This’, the intro number, begins with a ‘calm before the storm’ style, pretty piano piece, before cyberpunking into an electronic, industrial chorus, appropriate as the meta lyrics see Byrne laugh off his unconventional dancing. Songs like ‘Doing the Right Thing and ‘Here’ are a lot more scarce, allowing Byrne’s powerful voice to take over. A crazy amount of instrumental styles are utilised, from Indian sitars to computerised beats, allowing ‘American Utopia’ to constantly intrigue.
The most admirable thing about ‘American Utopia’, is that David Byrne doesn’t just treat his country’s ills as a reason to turn into a cynic, he uses them to highlight other, more optimistic, ways to react, promoting appreciation of the overlooked aspects of life. There are moments of gloom and uncertainty, but ‘American Utopia’ turns the road to nowhere into the road to hope.
‘American Utopia’ is out now via Nonesuch Records. The track listing is as follows…
01. I Dance Like This
02. Gasoline And Dirty Sheets
03. Every Day Is A Miracle
04. Dog’s Mind
05. This Is That
06. It’s Not Dark Up Here
08. Doing The Right Thing
09. Everybody’s Coming To My House