Photo by Jody Rogac
By Robert Ham
Throughout his peerless run as leader of post-punk legends Talking Heads and a lengthy solo career, David Byrne’s gaze at the state of the world has remained firm over the past four decades: suspicious, bemused, and more than a little curious about how we got here. That’s been the core of his best work, like 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, his cut-up masterpiece with Brian Eno; 1986’s True Stories, his cinematic ode to small-town life; and Here Lies Love, his 2010 multimedia musical with producer Fatboy Slim about the life of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines.
Byrne’s cultural concerns have never been clearer than they are on his latest solo album, American Utopia. Recorded with assistance from Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), Eno, and Sampha, among others, the record looks at the state of our nation and its easily satisfied and distracted populace. Tempering these downcast visions are sentiments that urge listeners to stay as positive as they can.
Those sentiments come through in the music, which mixes electronic pop with Byrne’s long-running interest in international sounds, lyrics that encourage dancing like no one is watching, and periodic reminders that “Everyday Is a Miracle.” That may sound treacly and cloying, but with these hyper-modern sounds and Byrne’s puckish spirit, it comes across as earnest and infectious. At a time when the news constantly reminds us of how fucked we might be, it’s a message that could serve us well for the next few years.