REVIEW: David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ House is Better Burned Down


David Byrne’s American Utopia marks the return of one of the most beloved musicians of our era. Byrne’s first solo album in 14 years is an anticipated if not uneven work that took two years to put together.

If you’re looking for Talking Heads, this is not it.

Byrne, best known broadly for his work in the 1980s with the new wave Talking Heads, writes, performs and produces American Utopia with co-writer and co-producer Brian Eno and the prolific co-producer Rodaidh McDonald.

Prepare for something that’s more akin to an offbeat, new-age David Bowie product than David Byrne. The co-producers did not do Byrne any favors enabling this flight of fancy on which Byrne sings, plays guitar, pads and keyboards.

David Byrne American Utopia - Photo by Jody Rogac
David Byrne – Photo by Jody Rogac

‘American Utopia’ Not Something Byrne Advocates

Byrne has said that the title American Utopia is not something he’s advocating to the world. And that’s good because if his utopia is anything like the album, it would be a disjointed spouting of phrases set to non-linear anti-melodies. Some people like that.

The tracks that have some beats and some meat on the bones for those who long for the 1980s David Byrne are “Gasoline and Dirty Sheets” and “Everybody’s Coming To My House,” by Byrne and Eno. Daniel Lopatin works the texturing and processing on the popular “Everybody’s Coming To My House.” It was a good choice to release the latter for radio play last January.

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“Everyday is a Miracle” is appealing but probably wouldn’t have been the most appealing song to put out there. The song is jam packed with strange references including how the “Pope don’t mean shit to a dog,” chicken kisses and brains, and donkey dick. Of course Bryne is using that rapier wit to illustrate the ridiculous paradoxical society we’ve devolved into. Like many of the other songs on the album, it is worthy of being played many times to understand what Byrne is really talking about.

American Utopia

Byrne and Eno ‘Gasoline and Dirty Sheets’

“I Dance Like This,” is a peculiar choice for the first song on the record. It encapsulates emotions that run the gamut, but in a subdued electronic environment. There is a powerful bass drum carrying this abbreviated semi-depressing electro work. “Can’t think of tomorrow when it seems so far away.”

But there is hope for the masses. “Gasoline and Dirty Sheets” grabs your attention. It’s pure upbeat David Byrne, a la Talking Heads, taking on today’s troubling issues but putting a futuristic spin on them. Who is anyone to tell David Byrne what to do, but these are the types of tracks that gave him his phenomenal success in his heyday of the 1980s.

Why Does Everyone Love David Byrne’s House?

“Everybody’s Coming To My House” is an upbeat, driving hit that has captured the attention of music fans and the team is capitalizing well on the legs. But it begs the question: What is it about Byrne’s house that makes a great song?  In 1983 he burned it down and the song was a super-hit. (1983 Speaking In Tongues, “Burning Down The House”)

“Everybody’s Coming To My House” gets a special performance by the Detroit School of Arts (DSA) Vocal Jazz Ensemble in Byrne’s “Reasons To Be Cheerful” series of initiatives. Byrne also did a funny and innovative, albeit lip-synched bit on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. 

WATCH: the Detroit School of Arts Choir sing “Everybody’s Coming To My House”

Yes, it’s a different era, it’s no longer the 1980s. But all the more reason to put out something that has legacy value with nostalgia factor but that also incorporates innovative new sounds. Now isn’t that a utopian idea?

American Utopia, Nonesuch Records

  1. “I Dance Like This” – 3:33
  2. “Gasoline and Dirty Sheets” – 3:19
  3. “Every Day Is a Miracle” – 4:46
  4. “Dog’s Mind” – 2:29
  5. “This Is That” (Byrne, Lopatin) – 4:31
  6. “It’s Not Dark Up Here” – 4:10
  7. “Bullet” – 3:09
  8. “Doing the Right Thing” – 3:38
  9. “Everybody’s Coming to My House” – 3:29
  10. “Here” (Byrne, Lopatin) – 4:13