David Byrne

Grown Backwards

BY Michael BarclayPublished May 1, 2004

Judging by his cover photo, David Byrne is now A Serious Artist. No more doll figures, gimmicky graphics or blinking eyes, just a close-cropped headshot of a sombre Byrne peering downwards underneath those famous eyebrows. To prove he’s serious, most of this album features just him and the Tosca Strings, with some extremely ill advised forays into opera. Inviting Rufus Wainwright along for an aria doesn’t help matters; Byrne should only ever stretch his voice with a full band behind him. Those missteps aside, Byrne’s first pop album in three years contains plenty of his trademark naïveté filtered through modern folk song, and he certainly hasn’t lost his sense of fun. We’ve heard it all before, but Byrne is at a stage in his career where he’s moved beyond his ’90s period of self-imitation into the role of the eccentric old uncle. Byrne’s wide-eyed view of life is still disarming after all these years ("The Other Side of This Life,” "Glad,” "Why”), even if it’s increasingly weird for a guy on the other side of 50. There’s also a splendid cover here of Lambchop’s "The Man Who Loved Beer,” even though Kurt Wagner can only wish he had Byrne’s sense of melody.

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