David Byrne
American Utopia 

Release Date: March 9

IN the latter stages of the legendary late David Bowie's career there were many times when a second coming was prematurely and obsequiously pronounced when a fair résumé would say his creative peak remained in the 70s and early 80s.

Byrne, born in Dumbarton to Scottish parents five years later than Bowie, may not have a track record in quite the same league as Bowie, but does have similar iconic status and career path with early genius as the Talking Heads front man topped off with extravagant and perplexing later ventures.

Byrne with the Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 16 years ago with the help of stardust fragments of eclectic and eccentric genius such as Psycho Killer, Once In A Lifetime and Burning Down the House.

The best of the band married a sharp ear for a quirky left field hook to deranged, sharp and often laugh-out-loud funny lyrics.

It would be wrong to discuss whether this is a return to form, because that is a euphemism for whether it is Talking Heads-esque and the 65-year-old Byrne has long since departed those shores.

Everything about American Utopia mirrors the good, the bad and the ugly of Byrne: from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the barking Dog's Mind to the cutely modernistic Everybody's Coming To My House.

While there is social commentary, and a clear reaction to post-Trump America, Byrne never stoops to name names, preferring to be more abstract.

It raises questions - and Byrne loves a good question - about the state of the world but does not pretend to provide answers while the content is shrouded with the cloak of whether he ever actually means any of it.

"Is this meant ironically? Is it a joke? Do I mean this seriously? In what way? Am I referring to the past or the future? Is it personal or political?," he said of the album.

It has been bizarrely billed as the first solo album for 14 years - which is meant to discount combined efforts - but Byrne's new offering is as collaborative as it gets, with over 25 artists working alongside him.


The Scot has faced criticism and has apologised for the fact that not one woman appears on the whole project, while collaborating with St Vincent (above) on his last outing six years ago.   It would be churlish to say that too many male chefs have spoiled the broth.

Byrne as any progressively-minded experimentalist and darer, is capable of misfiring both creatively and in the public arena.

Having left Scotland as a small child and now New York-based, there were some who would say he inadvisedly warned Scots about the dangers of independence a month before the 2014 referendum, saying that it "might be a bit much to handle".


He preluded his comments with the words, "as an outsider" and punctuated his statement with the fact he has lived most of his life in the US, but that would not stop the tirade.

The grand album opener I Dance Like This creates a familiar theme for Byrne, with his trademark idiosyncratic droll beckoning over a cute and simple piano part interrupted by an oppressive 'hook' that has the former Talking Heads front man come over as a cheerless robot.

READ MORE: David Byrne gets warm reception for saying sorry for not working with women on new LP

While it is all very calculated, it reminded me of the jarringly irritant monotone vocals of Einar Örn Benediktsson's in the midst of Björk's heavenly singing with The Sugarcubes.

On the danceable Everybody's Coming to My House, the most instantly gratifying of the ten songs here, he actually seems to take production tips from LCD Soundsystem, who ironically would not have had a career without the Talking Heads.

Elsewhere Gasoline and Dirty Sheets is Byrne on autopilot, the kind of over-produced tune that you would think he could do in his sleep.

American Utopia's most prominent collaborator is Brian Eno who gets co-writing credit on most of the album’s songs, not that that appears to have curbed Byrne's wordiness which can come at the expense of a cracking earworm tune.

Every Day Is A Miracle drifts along on an uplifting salsa-esque vibe and is interspersed with typical screwball Byrne absurdities: "The brain of a chicken. And the d*ck of a donkey. A pig in a blanket. And that's why you want me."

When Byrne is not being a musical Edward Lear, though, his playfulness and overriding optimism win through and neatly echoes his multimedia project Reasons to Be Cheerful, a collection of uplifting counterbalance to a world full of depressing news.

The charmingly wistful It’s Not Dark Up Here is the nearest thing to typical Talking Heads here and makes no apologies for a lack of solutions declaring to a relentlessly warped summer-funk backing: "Does winter follow spring, like night follows day. Must a question have an answer, can't there be another way."

What we have here is a brief 35 minute snapshot of the current Byrne headspace: introverted, sometimes impenetrable, sometimes captivating, often frustratingly self-indulgent, but whose heart ultimately is in just the right place.