Album Review: David Byrne and St. Vincent – Love This Giant

The De Mello Rating – *****

When David Bowie decided he was going to tour with Nine Inch Nails people rolled their eyes and when Neil Young made an album with Pearl Jam people were absolutely apoplectic. Yet, no one gets roiled up about Rod Stewart or Paul McCartney making cookie cutter old guy albums. Well, nobody except me. So there seems to be three options for an aging rock star: A) make an album or record a song with someone you find to be on the cutting edge of that sound you think is most relevant, B) go back to the roots of what made you the artist you became when you were famous or C) be like John Fogarty and just rehash your old material and make albums that sound like you’re rehashing old material. I suppose one could retire, but that’s not what we’re discussing here.

What this distinction inevitably points out is that the artists that have more staying power, the ones that wanted to stay in the relevant discussion with the younger people go the first route. The ones that feel like they can’t relate go route B and John Fogarty goes route C. When “I’m Afraid of Americans” came out it was a revelation. I remember hearing it for the first time and being absolutely astounded by how off the wall great it was. I never, in a million years, would’ve thought these artists could work together and yet they made one of the songs that has a lasting impact on really a lost era for music.

David Byrne is one of the weirdest and yet most influential artists of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. What he and the Talking Heads accomplished has been spoken of ad nauseam and really doesn’t need to be repeated here. Suffice it to say he is a musical genius. Annie Erin Clark, better known as St. Vincent has been well renowned in her own right ever since she was a part of the Polyphonic Spree. She’s toured with the likes of John Vanderslice, Surfjian Stevens (as an actual part of his touring band) and Arcade Fire. She is a superb musician and a beautiful singer.

Putting these two together would never be anything that crossed most people’s minds. They come from different generations and have distinctly different styles…or do they? That was exactly what I thought coming into Love This Giant, their new collaborative album. When I started listening to it, though, I found it to be funky and very Talking Heads like, but on the songs that St. Vincent sings there’s a atmospheric shift in the way the songs are structured. They take on an almost ambient feel to them.

When Byrne takes the reins on his songs they feel like we’re experiencing déjà vu all over again with the Talking Heads, but modern, if that makes sense. It’s still very brassy, with horns and Byrne’s voice sounds almost exactly the same as it did back then, but there is the notion that these songs aren’t of an old guy talking about the past like a Paul McCartney or a girl doing a Tony Bennett duets-type album. These are two people still in their primes performing perfectly relevant and timely music.

Take the song “Who” for instance:

Who is an honest man?
Who is an honest man?
Who’ll help the tired soldier
Far from his own hometown
Carry these men and women
Who get lost when the Sun goes down
Who is an honest man?

The way St. Vincent weaves in and out in that sexy, but subtle echo with lyrics that seem perfectly relevant to the turbulent times in which we live today is the brilliance of these musicians personified. Not only is this album a perfect blend between two magnificent artists, it is the perfect meld of musical soul mates. This album is without a doubt the best album I’ve heard all year. It’s utterly flawless and this musical conjoining of kindred spirits is hopefully not the last time we see these two together.

Best Song: Lazarus – This song epitomizes the sublime blend of the two performers as they skirt the edge of obvious religious overtones. It has loud brass and as the song reaches its climax the voices recede and the brass crescendos like lightning on the water.

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