Album Review: David Byrne — American Utopia

By Emily DiAlbert, Contributor
[Nonesuch; 2018]
Rating: 7/10

Key Tracks: “I Dance Like This”, “Gasoline and Dirty Sheets”, “Bullet”

If music had its own Saturday Night Live, American Utopia would be its first episode. Talking Heads frontman David Byrne expertly intertwines stark commentary on the American political climate with witty and, at times, odd humor in his first solo release in 14 years. The album, which comments on guns, the president, immigration and more, couldn’t have been released at a better time (because, well, you know why). Just like Saturday Night Live provides some comedic relief from the relatively terrifying state the country is in at all times, American Utopia offers the same relief, but with some eclectic and catchy beats added to soften the blow.

The political commentary begins with the song “Gasoline and Dirty Sheets”, which analyzes America in the eyes of current and prospective immigrants. The track isn’t witty as much as it is blunt. It comments on the downsides of America, including how difficult it is under the current administration for refugees to seek solace in the country (“Many people are locked outside … Many people, they can’t get in”) and how the rights of current Americans are already compromised (“She says that freedom costs too much”).

The song “Bullet” provides even more blunt commentary, but this time on guns. The song describes, from the perspective of a bullet, both the physical and emotional pain that death-by-gun causes to both the individual victim and their loved ones. Before listing another ruin, Byrne sings “The bullet went into him / It went its merry way / Like an old grey dog / On a fox’s trail,” perhaps to comment on the fact that no proud gun owner seems to realize the immensely negative impact that gun violence has on Americans.

Byrne’s wit shines in the song “Dog’s Mind”, where he offers a dog’s perspective on politics. Dogs obviously can’t process what’s going on in the world; they don’t know who Donald Trump is (couldn’t we all be so lucky?); they don’t know about “fake news”, political corruption or various crises that happen daily, either (once again, couldn’t we all be so lucky?). Instead, to quote Byrne, they can go on “doggy dreaming all day long”. The track is the comic relief that’s much needed after some hard-hitting, politically-rich songs.

Byrne’s album isn’t all political, though. The seasoned musician still includes fun-loving tracks with 80s beats that reminds one of the Talking Heads’ glory days. The album’s opener, “I Dance Like This”, is one of them. The track is very unpredictable, switching from slow piano chords and quiet verses to pounding synth-pop choruses. Even with the volatile beats, it’s still one of the best 80s-esque tracks on the album.

Between the commentary tracks and the upbeat, dancing songs, American Utopia is the album that all Americans need but only some want. As with any album that takes a political stance, there’s always room for controversy. What matters is that Byrne stuck to his gut and produced lyrical artistry that is commendable no matter what your political views may be.

Listen here:

One Comment Add yours

  1. 365musicmusings says:

    Political? Yes. Well intentioned? Yes. Good? … here’s an opposing analysis if you’d like!


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