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‘American Utopia’ review: David Byrne’s hopeful, honest look at life today

David Byrne's "American Utopia" is his first solo

David Byrne's "American Utopia" is his first solo album in 14 years. Credit: Nonesuch


“American Utopia”

BOTTOM LINE A hopeful but honest look at the state of the nation.

With David Byrne, nothing is ever straightforward.

That doesn’t change on “American Utopia” (Todomundo / Nonesuch), Byrne’s first solo album since 2004’s “Grown Backwards,” following “Here Lies Love,” his fantastic Imelda Marcos musical created with Fatboy Slim, and collaborations with St. Vincent and Brian Eno. He even feels the need to explain himself in the liner notes, writing, “Is this meant ironically? Is it a joke?”

Byrne assures us that he is serious about an “American Utopia,” that he believes it existed in the past and could exist in the future. The songs here, though, are specifically about the present and they come from radically different points of view.

“Every Day Is a Miracle” may be the most straightforward, though it opens from the point of view of a chicken. “The chicken imagines a heaven full of roosters and plenty of corn,” Byrne sings over a loping island beat, before getting to the parable’s moral: “You’ve got to sing for your supper, love one another.”

He actually sounds most earnest in “Dog’s Mind,” where he imagines political issues through a dog’s eyes. (Spoiler alert: Dogs don’t really care about politics.) He sings matter-of-factly in the lilting “Bullet,” singing about a shooting from the bullet’s point of view.

“American Utopia” does offer glimpses of paradise in the contemplative “This Is That” and the dreamy “Here,” which navigates the brain until it reaches a space where the groove can stretch out.

The grand single “Everybody’s Coming to My House,” with its Afrobeat accompaniment that is the clearest descendant of Talking Heads’ heyday, seems to be about considering inclusion in the immigration debate, but veers off into an unexpected, more universal, utopian theme, “We’re only tourists in this life, only tourists but the view is nice.”

As with most Byrne projects, “American Utopia” is all about enjoying the ride.

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