David Byrne - American Utopia Album Review

Story posted March 12, 2018 in Arts & Entertainment, CommRadio by Scott Purdue

David Byrne is back with an all-new solo album, American Utopia, his first solo project since 2004. On this album, Byrne commentates on a wide range of subjects including politics, religion and life while also remaining hopeful, coinciding with his movement “Reasons to be Cheerful.” The album explores Byrne’s disappointment with the recent election and the state of the union through the perspective of a hopeful lens while also providing the listener with innovative instrumentation and Byrne-branded grooves.

Byrne is best known for his work with the Talking Heads, where he served as frontman and main songwriter. Byrne has since led a successful solo career while also working with other artists such as Brian Eno and St. Vincent. His innovative and peculiar style along with his distinctive voice has cemented Byrne as a fascinating commentator and perspective on many of society’s oddities.

While most of Byrne’s earlier work with the Talking Heads depicted a concerned and paranoid outlook on Byrne’s usual themes of religion and politics, such as the band’s hit, “Life During Wartime,” this album incorporates a far more positive and optimistic perspective. Songs such as, “Every Day Is a Miracle” and “Everybody’s Coming to My House” have a joyous and celebratory tone on life and religion, unlike most of Byrne’s previous works. Even songs such as, “Bullet,” a song about a man who has been shot from the bullet’s viewpoint, don’t have the signature dark perspective typically found in a Byrne song. The album overall, while tackling with depressing and concerning topics remains pleasant and upbeat.

While a lot of Byrne’s commentary is interesting and perplexing, some of the music itself is somewhat hard to enjoy. Byrne’s perspective is always worth a listen, some of the songs just aren’t quite as enjoyable as others. Songs such as “Dog’s Mind,” while having an interesting perspective, don’t have any real instrumental punch. This song, in particular, is more so a spoken-word oriented song with an instrumental backdrop that doesn’t quite match as if the backing track was an afterthought. It doesn’t exactly match the other tracks either, feeling thrown in even though its thematic message is in line with the other tracks. Byrne also has a tendency to disrupt the listeners with an abrupt shift in sound heard, most clearly on, “I Dance Like This” which moves from a soft tone spoken word to a jarring and sudden electronic riff. While this shift is purposeful and thematic, it can be hard to enjoy since it is so abrasive.

While the album does sport many innovative beats and exciting grooves backed by interesting commentary, a few of the songs fall short of being great hits and detract from the listening experience. But at the same time, however, the album is very cohesive and warrants plenty of returns to capture all of Byrne’s subtle meanings and outlooks. The shift in Byrne’s perspective to being so cheerful has impacted his writing and music, and will most likely appear in more of his works down the road. This newest album fits very well with Byrne’s other work and is a great representation of Byrne’s reinvention of his style.

Rating: 7/10


Scott Perdue is a freshman majoring in film/video. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.