By David Sprague
Even by his own mercurial standards, David Byrne's latest outing is something of a head-spinner, what with the variety of styles and offbeat collaborations that pack its grooves. Byrne has often turned to realms outside rock for inspiration, and here he connects solidly with his first foray into opera (dueting with Rufus Wainwright on "Au Fond du Temple Saint," culled from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers) as well as a crack at avant-jazz (the brassy, politically charged "Empire," which features the Carla Bley Big Band). As is his wont, Byrne digs deep into rhythmic grooves on several of Grown Backwards's 15 cuts, reaching critical mass on the herky-jerky funk-fest "Dialog Box," on which he casts a jaundiced eye on technological overdependence. He's not shy about using modern methods, as evidenced by the chattering loops that pop up here and there on the disc, but most of the atmospherics come from the organic accompaniment of Austin's Tosca Strings, a chamber ensemble that adds moody touches to several songs, including "Tiny Apocalypse" and "Glass, Concrete and Stone." And, like any good godfather, Byrne gives a nod to his art-pop offspring, covering Lambchop's "The Man Who Loved Beer" with warmth and wit to spare. Growth? You bet -- but not a backward-looking moment in sight.