Album Review: David Byrne - David Byrne
In 1994, listeners got a tantalisingly brief glimpse at the real David Byrne, one they would have to wait a decade to witness again. On his self-titled album, Byrne raised the veil slightly; just enough to let his most personal song writing to date into the world.
Before this album, Byrne had been somewhat difficult in his lyrical occupations. It was his first album, 1989’s Rei Momo that started the upheaval of his stream-of-consciousness delivery that graced Talking Heads albums. On that record, little vignettes densely packed with character details and declarations of jubilance were the perfect accompaniment to Rei Momo’s Latin stylings. However, they were still pointed examinations of others, set to the backdrop of other cultures. David Byrne turns the focus inwards, offering fleeting hints of the man behind the genius, something we wouldn’t see again properly until 2004’s Grown Backwards. But he still makes us work for it.
The album marks a significant left turn from the goofy aesthetic of his previous album, 1992’s Uh-Oh. Its arrangements are ones that are ingrained in the zeitgeist of American Rock, with song foundations lying in more traditional drums, guitar and bass arrangements. However, that’s not to say Byrne had lost his weird streak. The eccentricities that make him so lovable remain on David Byrne. For example, Byrne’s bridge and chorus on Back in the Box are relatively straight forward and sing-able, however their normality is undercut in the verses with the abrasive three-note, high-pitched guitar plucking. Similar treatment is given to Sad Song which could have easily be a Rei Momo outtake and A Self-Made Man’s circus-esque outro. The fact remains however, that the songs on David Byrne are some of the most conventionally backed songs in Byrne’s oeuvre.
Byrne’s declaration of “I cut myself to see who I am” is one of the most jarring lyrics he has written. Suddenly you realise that the lyrics on David Byrne are some of his most affecting.– Kieran Baddeley
While it is no way a stripped-back album, this does allow his song writing to shine through. On the album’s centrepiece Nothing At All, Byrne’s declaration of “I cut myself to see who I am” is one of the most jarring lyrics he has written. Suddenly you realise that the lyrics on David Byrne are some of his most affecting. Later in the same song, he tells the listener to “Shake your body till the fear is gone, like it was nothing at all” as if some sort of plea for it all to go away. For what to go away though? Byrne offers no answers to these platitudes: yes, he cuts himself, but he “still can’t touch the policeman inside.” It’s all too easy to read into lines like this but the album would perhaps have benefited from a complete and through examination of Byrne’s self, rather than cryptic metaphors like this.
Yet the roots of Grown Backwards masterful self-examination and criticism lies in these songs too. The beautiful ode to love that is My Love is You is really where Byrne’s strengths would lie in from here on- gorgeous melodicism and simple offerings of affection, complete with some self-critique (“sometimes I’m an a*****e too”). This is continued on Lilies of The Valley with “I need someone to cover me with kisses, when I’m all alone & scared.” In this sense, while it can be somewhat frustrating for it, David Byrne’s strength lies in the fact Byrne is opening the window to his soul multiple times, but slamming the window on your fingers the same amount.
Now’s the time to appreciate the work of a genius who left a postcard to his soul that was ignored by the critics and public alike. The time has come to stop ignoring it.Kieran Baddeley
All this is helped through the backing band’s efficiency and skill. They are just as capable at the guitar driven jangle of Angels as they are the slow plod of A Long Time Ago. In fact, the ghostly ambience of songs like the latter are where they truly sparkle. Paul Socolow’s bass in Lilies of The Valley is perfectly judged and the heaviness of the entire band helps to make Crash one of Byrne’s weirdest and most original compositions, instilled with an almost grunge mentality and the light touch of the acoustic driven My Love is You points the way to a triptych of songs from the next three albums, continuing with A Soft Seduction from Feelings and The Revolution from Look into the Eyeball. Like all of his albums, Byrne’s genre hopping allows a lot of ground to be covered but here it’s much more cohesive than the following album, Feelings, queasy electronics and that’s down to the band.
Where Byrne and his band really synch to perfection is on the penultimate track, Strange Ritual. It lives up to its name as it’s definitely the most peculiar song in his discography and that’s saying something. The impressionistic lyrics are perfect and the band’s austere arrangements succeed in building tension between the lyrics of a pondering traveller and the frantic panic when he won’t move. It has to be listened to for it to be understood but the groove that picks up towards the end of the song renders it one of Byrne’s best.
Songs like this really do bring into question why Byrne’s legacy lies exclusively in his Talking Heads work. While those albums were undoubtedly high points, it’s difficult to deny the genius of Byrne’s solo work. Not only is it more accessible, but its more heartfelt and joyous. His work connects to the human psyche on an extraordinarily personal level. It’s David Byrne’s 25th anniversary in May 2019 and now’s the time to appreciate the work of a genius who in 1994 left a postcard to his soul that was ignored by the critics and public alike. The time has come to stop ignoring it.
The Breakdown | Album Review: David Byrne – David Byrne
With his self-titled album, David Byrne began to curate a legacy of emotional poignancy and honest truths. What the album really represents though, is an exercise in openness and repression: both aspects of Byrne’s character he still wrestles with to this date.