By Eric R. Danton
David Byrne has always tried to push the boundaries of pop music by incorporating world and other influences into his songs. He takes things a step further on "Grown Backwards," his latest album, with a pair of arias.
As in, tunes from operas.
It's a daring gambit, particularly for a guy who is still best known for his warbling on Talking Heads songs like "Once in a Lifetime." Byrne acknowledges as much in the press notes accompanying the album, asking, "Who gave me permission to try that?"
He choose two arias; one would have seemed like too much of an aberration, he writes. He first recorded "Un Di Felice, Eterea" from "La Traviata," and though the result might make purists shudder, Byrne's is a proletarian interpretation that gives more weight to the passion of the piece than to operatic convention.
"Grown Backwards" is more orchestral than Byrne's previous work - the Tosca Strings play a prominent part - and the result is a Romantic, almost baroque record that sounds as though it should feature Rufus Wainwright. That's handy, because it does. Wainwright duets on the other aria, "Au Fond Du Temple Saint," and the men's voices blend beautifully on a moving crescendo.
Elsewhere, Byrne turns to funk with wah-saturated guitar and sneaky horn lines on "Dialog Box," the most rocked-up song on the album. There's a jazzy tango groove on "She Only Sleeps." The opening track, "Glass, Concrete & Stone," is a stately marvel of intricate percussion that carries the melody as Byrne repeats the refrain, "It is just a house, not a home."
Along with his own songs, Byrne includes a cover of Lambchop's "The Man Who Loved Beer," replete with swelling violins. It would seem eclectic on a less adventurous album, but Byrne mixes styles and genres so often - and with such skill - on "Grown Backwards" that it's merely another example of his fascination with music in all its forms.