By Sarah Schmelling
David Byrne's new album starts with a melody that seems to be a lullaby, and then--after it woos you--it breaks your heart: "Try to pretend it's not only glass and concrete and stone/And it's just a house not a home."
This sweet, but melancholy, mood sets in early, and rides with the music till the album's end. Through selected use of strings, horns, guitar and percussion, and lyrics focused on daily life and love, the ex-Talking Head manages to reflect what he says he was feeling in creating "Backwards"--frustration with wars and post-9/11 sadness--without ever addressing the subjects directly.
Tunes flow effortlessly into one another, mirroring notes and rhythms. Even the two arias on the album--Bizet's "Au Fond Du Temple Saint" (helped beautifully by Rufus Wainwright) and Verdi's "Un Di Felice, Eterea"--don't sound out of place between jazzy fusions like "Dialog Box," and the slinky Samba, "She Only Sleeps." At the same time, Byrne manages to cover Lambchop, happily riff on societal problems in "Tiny Apocalypse," and invent songs like "The Other Side of Life," which appears to be part Broadway musical, part contemporary pop and part Monty Python.
The end result is a fluid collection of songs so rich, if you took a piece away from any one of them, it could form the basis for another creation.