David Byrne says he recorded his new CD "Grown Backwards" (Nonesuch) from the "top down," starting with the melodies that he hummed into a microcassette recorder. It shows.
While Byrne's recent albums have been a bit hit-and-miss, those were rhythm-driven affairs, as the former Talking Heads front man worked through his interests with world beat music. His new album is melody-driven. As a result, "Grown Backwards" is solid - filled with simple, elegant songs that combine his quirky, detailed tales of urban life and his unique plaintive voice.
The opener "Glass, Concrete and Stone" shows how he has reined in his rhythmic interests and made them serve his melodies, instead of the other way around. The best surprises, though, are where Byrne steps out of his element. His cover of Lambchop's "The Man Who Loved Beer" is charmingly straightforward and upbeat. His duet with Rufus Wainwright on the aria "Au Fond du Temple Saint" from Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" is gorgeous and understated. "She Only Sleeps" is a delicate little love song that offers a rare glimpse into Byrne's tender side.
Of course, he hasn't given up on the grand statement altogether. On "The Other Side of This Life," he tackles the intersection of art and commerce in a hummable melody. The laundry list of "Glad" turns into an appreciation of struggle.
In all, "Grown Backwards" may be Byrne's best work since leaving Talking Heads.
"Grown Backwards," in stores today; Grade: B