DAVID BYRNE FEATURE
0 they still have a New Wave rack in your record stores? What’s in there now? Just old Talking Heads, Pretenders and Elvis Costello, right?’
David Byrne ﬂings back his head and guffaws. Deafening as this outburst is, it’s pleasant to discover that Byrne is not at all as serious as so many old fathers of rock. Thus, my observation that it’s impossible to ﬁnd all his work in one section of HMV is met with amusement rather than smug pride. Although this ex-Talking Head has approached not only his own band’s unpredictable rock music but also the lusty rhythms of Brazil, classical music, film and video projects and, most recently, south Indian ﬁlm music with more spirit and imagination than most three-minute heroes can muster in their finest moment, David Byrne is not precious.
Indeed, the sleevenotes to volume one of his record label Luaka Bop’s Asia Classics reads: ‘Whether you’re doing the dishes or dancing all night, it will keep you moving and make you smile.’ While other highbrow critics dedicate themselves to po-faced prose on the various world musics they consider the serious CD-collector should be patronising, Byrne just wants you to know what a good time you could have listening to It.
‘Most of the music I love is a real mix of styles. Ah, I shouldn’t say that, I like lots of other kinds of music too. But, yeah, I like jumble, y’know?’
At 40, Byrne is still very much a music fan. Luaka Bop is a vehicle for compilations of recordings he has fallen in love with by other artists, as well as his own works, which have included the classical soundtrack The Forest (for the True Stories follow-up that never actually made it onto screen), and two solo albums.
Although his involvement with the label dictates a certain amount of business interest, he prefers being part of its creative process. ‘I don’t really know much about the marketing end. The more I know, the more disillusioned and confused I get, so . . .’
Byrne’s ﬁrst solo album proper, 1989’s Rei Momo, saw him jumping head first into the Latin rhythms that Talking Heads albums had been increasingly inﬂuenced by. He confesses that it was part of a conscious effort to make his own work distinctly different from Talking Heads’, while the band — albeit in name alone by that time —- were still together. Following the announcement of the band’s split last year, the release of Byrne’s second album, Uh-Oh, has been regarded as a public unveiling of his ‘plans for the future’. Its mix of spicy Rei Momo beats and the more familiar Talking Heads fried-pop is Byrne’s recognition that he no longer needs to
dissociate himself from the four-headed beast that made him famous. ‘It wasn’t intentional, but I sense that a lot ofthe things I’ve done in the past go into what I do now. I haven’t censored myself.’
Opening his new show, the ‘Monster In The Mirror’ tour, with a half-hour solo set in front of the curtains, Byrne, armed only with an acoustic guitar, makes another move away from his old identity as band-leader. However, a selection of Heads songs — ‘Road To Nowhere’ and ‘Burning Down The House’ included — amongst the solo numbers, are a clear indication that, now Uh-Oh has consolidated his present achievements, he is happy to celebrate his past.
When he is joined by his full band — an army of rhythm — Byrne is once again the charismatic, vocal focal point he was in Stop Making Sense. The outsized jacket, however, has been left behind. At times, the clatter of percussion and industrious basslines tries too hard to live up to the Talking Heads sound, but in ‘Blind’ the unrelenting groove is as effective as it was when Byrne first spat out its refrain on Talking Heads’ Naked.
‘In some of the more down Talking Heads stuff,’ Byrne comments, ‘there was always a pretty strong groove. Some of the lyrics on the new album are pissed-off too. The rhythm is buoyant, but what I’m saying is darkerf
Despite the upbeat tunes which often accompany Byrne’s lyrics, his manic voice never fails to betray a certain world-weary
‘Most oi the music I love is a real mix oi styles. I like jumble, y’know?’
desperation. It’s a sometimes delirious, sometimes bemused attitude he could not shake off in sixteen years ofTalking Heads.
‘Many of our songs reﬂected something of the tenor ofthe time. I haven’t sealed myselfoff from the world. There is a sense of what is happening right now on Uh-Oh, but it doesn’t deal with what was on the front of the papers last week.
‘I’m gradually getting involved in beneﬁts, giving money. For the last election, I did some posters. This time, I’m waiting to see if there’s a Democratic candidate that I could support. For me, that’s a more direct way of dealing with a specific issue at a specific time. It’s difficult for me to express myself directly in a song, although I admire other people who can.
‘But, y’know, I’m kind of looking forward to the craziness at the end of the decade.’
David Byrne plays the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh on Tue 21.
I "IT/MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS ANO FOOD/FEAR OF MUSIC Rock had rarely been less bombastic, more quinical or quite so touching and scary all at once. Attentlve listening erodes the myth oi coldly detached musos, but the arrival oi kindred spirit Brian Eno propelled Byrne down more exploratory paths.
I REMAIN IN LIGHT
Band members may have been disgruntled that Byrne and Eno took all the credit ior this one, but they had every reason to be proud oi the result. By imposing their Ideas about Airican music onto an American rock band, they stayed streets ahead oi the pack. I STOP MAKING SENSE
One oi the great puzzles oi Talking Heads is how they could reach their peak as a live band when their songwriting had run out oi momentum. Apart irom the gorgeous ‘This Must Be The Place’, the songs irom ‘Speaking In Tongues’ (‘Remain In Light”s iollow-up) are second-rate, but the extended band simply soar on this classic live album.
I LITTLE CREATURES
Talking Heads’ most endearing and user-iriendly record. More was to come, but we should rememberthem this way.
I THE CATHERINE WHEEUMUSIC FROM THE KNEE PLAYS
Never airald to dabble with others irom the New York loit scene, Byrne scored music Ior stage productions like choreographer Twyla Tharp’s ‘The Catherine Wheel' and director Robert Wilson’s ‘CIVIL warS’. The “knee plays’ irom the latter were his iirst attempts at scoring ior brass and didn’t lack charm. Unlike his orchestral LP, ‘The Forest’, which did, in spades.
I REl MOMO
Drunk on Latin music, Byrne made looser and happier music than ever beiore. This was a celebratory blast that seemed geared towards annihilating his image as the twitchy, Inhibited geek who’d seen ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth' one time too many. I UH-OH
The Latin iniluence on this latest LP are still strong; but Byrne has taken a step backward towards a more compact small-band sound without loosing any oi the unseliconscious ioyiulness oi ‘Rel Momo'.
David Byrne/Brian Eno
I MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS While never selling more than respectable cult quantities, this album set the agenda tor a generation oi portentous sampler-jockeys. A collection oi rhythmic tracks iermented in the intluences oi Alrica and the Middle East weave their ways around samples oi muezzins and crazed evangelists. Alter a decade, it’s hardly dated.
The List l7—30July 19927