No 'Grow'-ing Pains For Byrne
David Byrne may be best known as the main brain behind the Talking Heads, a
band that pushed the limits of American pop. However, Byrnes solo career
has been even more adventurous. Grown Backwards (Nonesuch Records), his
latest album, continues his habit of mixing genres in unexpected ways: opera
collides with new wave, R & B meshes with world music, string sections meet
Byrne took an
entirely new approach to composing the original tracks on Backwards.
Many of these new songs began as melodic fragments, says Byrne.
In the past I would often begin songs based on improvised textures and
grooves, adding melodies and then later on Id write lyrics to fit. But
this time I began carrying a little micro-cassette with me, and if a tune popped
into my head Id hum it, wordlessly, in to the mic, wherever I was.
While on tour, as well as during an extended stay in Scotland working on music
for the controversial film Young Adam, Byrnes travels helped inspire his
songwriting. Some were originally sung in Glasgow, some in London, and
most in New York, Byrne states.
Working with these fragments, Byrne continues, from the top
down, led to what I felt were more organic and possibly heartfelt melodies
than those limited by grooves, which by nature are usually based on a few chords,
and that was something I was maybe too used to doing.
Grown Backwards also includes a number of unexpected cover songs, including
Lambchops The Man Who Loved Beer and a re-recording of Lazy,
Byrnes 2002 collaboration with X-Press 2. Always one to experiment with
genres, Byrne even includes two opera arias on the disc - Bizets Au
Fond du Temple Saint and Un Di Felice from Verdis La
Despite the unusual nature of a pop star attempting opera, Byrnes arrangements
of the selections work exceedingly well. Id heard some opera tunes
before, says Byrne, and seeing Un Di Felice sung live,
I realized how this was one of those instantly memorable arias, a three-minute
piece which was one of the ancestors of Western pop songs.
Dueting with Byrne on Au Fond du Temple Saint is singer-songwriter
Rufus Wainwright. I had interviewed Rufus for the PBS show Sessions
at West 54th, says Byrne, so I knew he was an opera fan, and
might be amenable to joining me in this risky venture, and he was.
Augmenting the albums classically- influenced pop sound is the appearance
of Austins Tosca String Quartet, with whom Byrne has toured. The
strings combined with the band brought out an emotional richness in the new
songs and even in the old ones, explains Byrne.
Though much of Backwards is classically- influenced, Byrne hasnt
lost his passion for the rhythms of world music, as evident in songs like the
albums infectious opener, Glass, Concrete & Stone. Mauro
Refosco plays percussion and mallet instruments, says Byrne, and
Ive worked with him since the mid-90s when we recorded and toured
With Grown Backwards, Byrne has combined all the varied musical elements
of his 15-year solo career into a cohesive, exciting, and unique mix that evokes
sounds of the past, present, and future. If only every artist could grow backwards.