The Music Box's #2 album of 2004
First Appeared at The Music Box, April 2004, Volume 11, #4
Written by John Metzger
Since disbanding Talking Heads, David Byrne has tried his hand at everything from world music to trip-hop to theatrical scores, all with varying degrees of success, though it’s not been since Rei Momo that he has concocted a collection of songs as satisfying as those on his latest effort Grown Backwards. Throughout the album, he traverses the many eclectic avenues of his career, exploring the history of songwriting around the globe with his fusion of Tin Pan Alley pop, Brazilian rhythms, and operatic arias. Indeed, the only person other than Byrne who could make Bizet and Verdi appeal to a rock-oriented crowd is Rufus Wainwright, and the duo’s duet on Au Fond du Temple Saint is startlingly magical as voices bend and twist amidst the selection’s majestic orchestral nuances.
In 1993, Elvis Costello merged chamber music with art pop by teaming with The Brodsky Quartet to record The Juliet Letters, but the experimental outing, while often quite lovely, was largely a less than compelling affair. Fortunately, Byrne avoids similar pitfalls in his endeavors on Grown Backwards. Accompanied by horns, reeds, several percussionists, and the Austin-based Tosca Strings, he drapes his pop-hued songs in the graceful beauty of a classical work without ever sounding stuffy or stodgy. Though the complex arrangements are sophisticated and regal, the melodies are as eminently infectious as they are eloquently stringent. Byrne injects some funk into the horn-splattered Dialog Box; flutters his way through the hymn-like, Bacharach-ian gentility of Empire; invokes the sprightly effervescent spirit of a Broadway musical on The Other Side of This Life; slathers a bossa nova shuffle with swollen strings as he nearly raps the lyrics to Tiny Apocalpyse; and paints a cover of Lambchop’s The Man Who Loved Beer with bountiful Beatle-esque beauty. The end result is that, despite its eclecticism, Grown Backwards is far more accessible than Byrne’s other outings, and quite frankly, he’s never sounded better.
Grown Backwards is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box