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Friday, May 17, 2019

David Byrne: Uh-Oh

DAVID BYRNE: UH-OH (1992)

1) Now Iʼm Your Mom; 2) Girls On My Mind; 3) Something Ainʼt Right; 4) Sheʼs Mad; 5) Hanging Upside Down; 6) A Walk In The Dark; 7) Twistinʼ In The Wind; 8) The Cowboy Mambo (Hey Lookit Me Now); 9) Monkey Man; 10) A Million Miles Away; 11) Tiny Town; 12) Somebody.

General verdict: Back to a normal routine of churning out smart pop statements — but without any big surprises, unless an emphasis on vague sociopolitical commentary actually counts.


This is a very nice sounding record, but if there ever was one moment where you could very clearly state that David Byrne had ceased to be an advanced creative force in the world of pop music, then the appropriately titled Uh-Oh, coming just three months after the official dissolution of Talking Heads, is the best candidate for such a moment. There is no doubt that David wanted to make this record, that it still captures him in a state of enjoying and nurturing his personal muse, but it looks like the days of having wild sex on the kitchen table are over, and we are now at the stage of courtly, leisurely, and regulated lovemaking in the bedroom.

A lot of this still sounds like Rei Momo, except that now David does not press the issue: Latin American associations are absent from the title, from the cover, and from most of the individual song titles and lyrics (with the exception of ʽCowboy Mamboʼ which isnʼt even a mambo). The musicianship is very mixed, with a large crowd of Brazilian, American, and European players involved in the sessions; and the overall spirit is still quite carnivalesque with an occasional darker streak, but the song structures veer more closely to the traditional pop in the same way it was on Little Creatures — no amount of lively brass overdubs can mask that.

Actually, at least some of the songs, in some subtle ways, are more creative and thought-provoking than the ones on Rei Momo. Thus, ʽNow Iʼm Your Momʼ, opening the record, is a song about sex change, in which Byrne not only manages to present the entire spectrum of views on that issue (from critical to embracing), but also makes the melody go through corresponding mood shifts, from harsh menacing funk in the verses to happy nonchalant pop in the chorus, not to mention a musically brilliant instrumental passage in which several polyphonic horn overdubs seemingly try to musicalize the «birds and bees» metaphor. The only thing that prevents the song from becoming a true classic is the exact same thing that is now common for Byrneʼs material: an invisible feel of «fluffiness», a sense that Byrneʼs sweet falsetto on the "birds and the bees" chorus is not exactly the man at his deepest. But if we can somehow bypass that problem for Paul McCartney, I guess it can eventually be bypassed for Byrne as well.

Or perhaps not, because when it comes to songs with less complex time signatures and fewer shifts in tonalities and more straightforward lyrics, it is hard to rate them anything higher than «passable fun» — ʽGirls On My Mindʼ is just such an example. Davidʼs excited and perturbed singing tone on that one makes it look as if he is trying to recapture the inspiration from the early days of Talking Heads (and, for that matter, it is hardly a coincidence that Uh-Oh apes the start of the title of the first track of Talking Headsʼ debut album), but where songs like ʽUh-Oh, Love Comes To Townʼ were introducing a brand new sound and a brand new artistic way of looking at the world, ʽGirls On My Mindʼ is now just an inferior variation on a very old strategy, and could be construed as a misguided attempt at self-aggrandizing from an old perv, rather than the mental confusion of a young city dweller, incapable of understanding or controlling his urges. Not that it ainʼt still fun — even an old perv deserves compassion — but, you know, anybody who has girls on his mind is probably capable of writing a toothless song like this one. (For comparison, it takes some real teeth to write something like, say, Oingo Boingoʼs ʽLittle Girlsʼ!).

That said, it is hard to find serious individual flaws with most of the songs as long as they are playing. The playful madhouse of ʽSomething Ainʼt Rightʼ with its crazy cicada whistles. The subversion of the Bo Diddley beat on ʽSheʼs Madʼ, and the songʼs eventual transformation from a paranoid rocker into a sentimental Latin dance. The creepy vaudeville of ʽA Walk In The Darkʼ, which sounds like a song Byrne might have written for Alice Cooper before deciding he could have his own way with it just as well. The possible dylanism of "I ainʼt gonna work here no more" at the start of ʽA Million Miles Awayʼ. The odd muezzin modulations in the middle of the otherwise still-latinized ʽTiny Townʼ — aw shucks, really quite a few of these tasty moments that make it all seem worth the while.

It is just weird how quickly they tend to slip away from memory once the album is over — per­haps it is just a matter of not being able to get thoroughly enthralled by these time signatures and big band arrangements. Another nagging suspicion is that, as the years go by, David wants to share more and more of his accumulated political wisdom with us, and though he takes extreme lyrical care so as not to sound too preachy or straightforward, ʽTwistinʼ In The Windʼ is still an inescapable rant against political bigwigs and ʽMonkey Manʼ is still a rant about the mistreatment of war veterans (remember, the album was released right after the Gulf War), and somehow it feels like fairly shallow pickings for a character of Byrneʼs level of depth. It happens to us all — he was probably undergoing the same loss-of-sharpness phase here that occurred, for instance, in Ray Davies sometime in the early Seventies — and it did not hit David as harshly as it hits many of us, but still, thematically Uh-Oh feels like a walk in the park next to, say, Fear Of Musicʼs trip through the most inner depths of your subconscious.

Nevertheless, tripping through your subconscious is not necessarily incompatible with a pleasant walk in the park — and for those who thought, for instance, that Rei Momo was OK, but placed too much emphasis on the Brazilian carnival thing, Uh-Oh might turn out to be the superior proposition. At any rate, it has excellent production, features enough diversity, is sufficiently smart, funny, and sentimental in places, and profoundly offends the Church with its album cover: what else should one look for in a solo David Byrne album?

13 comments:

  1. George must have been so blown away by Yanqui UXO that he still hasn't been able to formulate the words for his next review.

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  2. Oh, and happy birthday.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, taking an unexpected short break currently, but we'll be back soon.

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  3. Are you still alive Only Solitaire? No review for long time...We miss you...

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  4. Still alive, yes. A lot of travel in the summer months, and not being able to keep up with any schedules. Will probably be back with occasional updates through August, and fully back on track by September.

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    1. Hope to see you soon love your reviews!

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  5. Hi GS., my name is Enrique and I'm from Mexico. I have been reading your reviews for several years and they are excellent.
    Good to know you're coming back.
    Greetings.

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  6. Best Blog and Source of Inforamation about Various Artists! Looking forward to Subsequent Reviews!

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  7. Good to hear all is well and looking forward to when you are back full-time.

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  8. George is obviously timing his return to coincide with the release of Bon Iver's new album. I have just seen the track list. Have to say - I'm really looking forward to the review...

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  9. Mr Only Solitaire ...the GOAT in music reviews...

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