This has been a long time coming.
David Byrne is my #1 favorite musician of all time. I could write at length on why the man is a fucking hero, but I will just say that I think hes probably the person who is most in line with my way of looking at the world. At the very least, he is fascinated by very similar things that fascinate me (although his reaction is to write a song and mine is to scream into the vast chasm of the internet).
He is also the artist I have seen live the most at 7 times. The very first was on the Grown Backwards tour at the House of Blues in New Orleans. I had a car full of people who were fuckin GONE on acid. Luckily for me it didn’t get stupid, and they didn’t trash my car. But the music, holy shit.
Every time the man goes out there live, he has the tightest fucking band. No bullshit. The sound always changes. This particular show had some weird instrumentation, including some kind of funky looking percussion and a theremin.
With the new show hitting the world this fall, the man seems to have another look taken at him of late. Some of his own doing. Some not.
I figured now is as good of a time as any to lift up some spirits and give him his own top five.
One big rule here for this list: I am not including any of Talking Heads’ material. This includes the Catherine Wheel, as the Stop Making Sense touring band played a bunch of that music. Two reasons for this. 1) There is already PLENTY of worship in that direction. Including myself (as it is also my favorite band ever). 2) In a similar vein, I feel like David Byrne’s solo stuff gets really overshadowed. Sure it isn’t has timeless or complex as the big Talking Heads records, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of gems in there.
Ok, now that we got that settled. Here we go.
This one feels like a slam dunk.
The history of albums that use sampling is…..weird. But, the one fact about this record that seems to be without dispute is that it is the first album where all of the vocals are sampled. So thats…something.
Regardless, I think this record is a landmark in the world of weird shit, and this is my personal favorite track from it. Not just because the vocals are from New Orleans’ own Rev. Paul Morton, who I actually had the pleasure of seeing do his thing at Greater St. Stephen’s Full Gospel Baptist Church.
For having vocals sourced from a preacher, it really is filled with anxiety, like a good chunk of David Byrne’s work. The mix of the track is masterful, as most things that Brian Eno has anything to do with are. I have actually put this on several playlists, and its always a welcome surprise. Its funky, easy to listen to, and still compellingly different than pretty much anything out there.
To me, this is classic David Byrne solo material. This is almost a continuation of themes from True Stories. Sort of taking an alien approach to understanding society.
For reference, this is how I felt about sports. I felt like there was something I was missing, so I had to understand what it was. I spent a year every sunday watching sports, trying to understand it. What I learned was that 1) I didn’t like it and 2) I will never understand why other people like it.
From a musical perspective, this is the lodestone of the Love This Giant project. The horns blend perfectly with St. Vincent’s guitar and the little synth lead that runs through the whole thing.
Alot of that album leans heavy on the brass, and rightfully so, but this thing feels like the type of thing David Byrne really wanted to go for. Its good shit.
A David Byrne fan favorite. Sure the crowd gets amped anytime they hear a Talking Heads song, but the fans….they want Dance on Vaseline.
Feelings, like alot of David’s work, is really groove focused. This record though really feels pinpointed. He wanted that sort of mid to late 90s synth based band (think Fatboy slim or probably more like Chemical Brothers or The Avalanches) but with more of a David spin to it. Heavy on latin drums\horns and groove.
What you get is a really wacked out record that is kind of all over the place, but its got alot of gems on it, and in my opinion, this is the biggest one. For being as dark as it is, it requires you to dance.
The song instantly takes me back to the time I spent living in Chicago. I bought this CD used from Reckless Records, and the image I have in my head is me in my 91 Buick Regal Limited, driving through the snow late at night, hoping I don’t slide out. Feels right man.
Despite the obvious like forays into something completely different, David Byrne centers around this one specific sound in his solo career. It oscillates somewhere inbetween the last three Talking Heads records. There is some sound in those records that he was attuned to or keeps coming back to. He will move away from it for an album or two, but he ends up coming back. Uh-oh, generally, is much more toward the Naked side of the Talking Heads coin.
As an album, I feel like Uh-oh has more misses than hits. Primarily because I think he may have been really trying to tell Tina Weymouth to fuck off. Regardless, its probably one of his least well developed efforts.
That being said, it does tip its hand to what it COULD be in a few tracks. A Walk in the Dark is the best example of that. Another spooky one, but interesting. We have that sort of afropop percussion that was all over Naked, choir backing vocals, some wind instruments. And he has a clear vision here. The sort of spookiness of the track really settles in, and transports you somewhere.
With Halloween coming up, I feel like this track needs more respect on its name. It would be perfect in that kind thing.
Grown Backwards is David Byrne’s best album, still to this day. Sometimes with his records, they can feel like a distraction or obligation. Like he had to do it to make someone at a label happy. Not as much lately. Or sometimes he goes REALLY FAR out there with a project. But when he focuses, he can crank out the masterpieces.
This album really deserves its own retrospective review (because most of the record is Stone Cold Classics), and it will get one, eventually. SO, I will focus on this track. My pick for the Zenith of David Byrne’s solo career.
As usual, the lyrics are what drag me back to David Byrne every time. I cannot express how much I connect to this song. This really feels like how I think about romance. Like a gorilla staring at a salad fork. Trying to get to civilization and never quite making it there. I feel like I have had the experience described in this song more times than I would have liked to.
As far as music, this is the perfection of that sound he is chasing. The sort of blending of world music and groove. We have a song about romance, so of course we have a Parisian-style accordion lead. It still has the jaunty guitar for the Talking Heads fan. The bongo beat. It feels like it shouldn’t work, but it completely does.
A masterpiece, like most every track on that record. I could have probably filled the top 5 with just stuff from that record, but that feels like cheating.
There were a ton. And I mean a fucking TON of honorable mention tracks. This was honestly the hardest top 5 I have ever had to do (except for #1, that was easy). If you have a passing interest into what David Byrne did after Talking Heads. Start with Grown Backwards, and then check out that Spike Lee movie coming out next month. There is already a live album for it, so that’s great shit too.
Enjoy it. You may learn something about yourself, this world, or where we go from here.