The longer David Byrne releases work outside of his nearly impeccable material with Talking Heads, the more I think that his departure from rock music has more to do with his contempt for the art form than the oft excuse of feeling confined from it.
This is all just a theory, and I have no way of claiming to know exactly what Mr. Byrne feels or thinks. Yet my hypothesis continues to build credibility the more David releases solo material. At their worst, some of these titles sound nothing more than a sense of entitlement, a carte blanche pass at fiddling about with genres that are beyond his basic talents as a musician and songwriter.
At their best, they’re mediocre. Which begs the question: why ignore a past filled with challenging and brilliant material while releasing utterly forgettable and snarky records that sound better on paper than they do through the speakers.
Add Love This Giant to that list. And while the record’s ultimate downfall can be shared between Byrne and collaborator Annie Clark (i.e. St. Vincent), it stings a bit more when you compare it to David’s enviable past and egghead knowledge of practically everything. Love This Giant is a horn-heavy effort that alternates between Byrne’s smug musings and St. Vincent’s empty narrative. Combine the two and you get a particularly clunky effort that has about the same shelf life that it took to create this project.
Regardless of how clever Byrne and Clark seem to think they are, the limitations of their patchwork collaboration is evident upon first listen. Brass and saxophones blurt out staccato jabs over stop/start rhythms, occasionally pausing or slowing the tempos just enough to let you know a deep moment is approaching.
On “The Forest Awakes” Clark admires the simpletons shuffling about their everyday routines while channeling Walt Whitman through Byrne’s hand. That alone should hint at the exaggerated importance that is found throughout Love This Giant. There’s simply no need to get this high and mighty over a collection of cut and paste pop songs and certainly no aficionado of pop music would ever confess to wanting a few more nods to Blades Of Grass in their ear candy.
By the time “Forest” reaches its halfway point, the best that Byrne can manage is “A fruit that falls before its grown/I heard a sound and our bird has flown/It breaks to pieces above the forest/A million particles born today.” Since the icy beats suddenly end and the horns get quieter, I’m guessing that the stanza qualifies as one of those aforementioned “deep” moments.
This kind of thing goes on throughout the album for a good forty minutes or so. It’s less if you’re like me and end up finding something else to listen halfway through Love This Giant, because it suddenly becomes this annoying distraction that’s cold, unfunny, and soulless.
Clearly, St. Vincent is the one that benefits from this collaboration the most, by being able to reference this moment in every press release going forward.
And for Byrne, a quote from Walt Whitman is in order, given the circumstances, “But where is what I started for so long ago/And why is it yet unfound?”