David Byrne’s latest solo album is deliberately subversive and experimental, as you would expect from the ex-Talking Heads frontman. The first song, ‘I Dance Like This,’ makes this clear from the outset, jumping from the playful tone of the verse into a heavy, electronic, progressive sound in the chorus.
There’s a lot to respect and appreciate about this album. Byrne’s constant search for something new and interesting keeps you guessing throughout. American Utopia spans genres from pop to prog and even more folky and Latin material, simultaneously pulling them into one and refusing to be pinned down by any. The production is meticulous, and Byrne’s attention to detail on the accompaniment for each song leaves little to be desired.
Unfortunately, this is also a hurdle American Utopia doesn’t entirely overcome. Byrne’s reluctance to be boxed in means that the album never settles. While undeniably ambitious, the constant tonal shifts mean that though the work dips into many pools, it doesn’t manage to submerge itself in any of them. Furthermore, the quirkiness of Byrne’s lyrical style (evident in ‘I Dance Like This,’) makes it hard to truly buy into the more serious tracks on American Utopia, such as the cultural commentary of ‘Dog’s Mind’ or the attempt at a heartfelt love song on ‘This Is That.’
In a nutshell: This album doesn’t quite hit its mark, but Byrne’s honest attempt at creating something original is a triumph in and of itself, and is something we can all enjoy.