• Weekend In the Dust
• Dinner For Two
• Ice Age
• I Am An Ape
• The Forest Awakes
• I Should Watch TV
• The One Who Broke Your Heart
• Outside Of Space & Time If the alternative music scene of New York has a matchmaker, then she pulled off a dynastic coup worthy of the royal marriages of medieval Europe when she paired David Byrne with Annie Clark. He’s the man who brought the Velvet Underground aesthetic into stadium arenas with Talking Heads; who, together with Brian Eno invented sample culture with My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Her pedigree is no less impressive: former Polyphonic Spree-er, a Sufjan Stevens collaborator and, as St. Vincent, the creator of three fantastic solo albums, each more impressive than the last.
The pair worked together previously on Here Lies Love, Byrne’s collaboration with Fatboy Slim, which turned the life of shoe fetishist and dictator’s wife Imelda Marcos into a disco-tinged retread of ‘Evita’. Clark’s appearance added a graceful beauty to the wonderful ‘Every Drop Of Rain’, on which she traded verses with co-star Candie Payne, so we know the couple are well matched. But is the marriage – as represent by Love This Giant – a happy one? The answer is a definite yes, but it’s not all plain sailing. This album, like many eagerly anticipated collaborations between established stars, is a series of fascinating flourishes and fanfares that somehow fails to entirely cohere.
On one of her solo albums, Clark’s contributions to Love This Giant would feel like the work of a confident artist well on her way towards making a bona fide classic. The nagging, stuttering hook of ‘Ice Age’ might even mark it out for earworm status, but ‘Weekend In The Dust’, a choppy juxtaposition of dance music rhythms and horns, feels self-conscious. Later, ‘Optimist’ uses the album’s brass-heavy orchestration to moving effect, creating a hymn to the cityscape poised halfway between gospel and Want-era Rufus Wainwright. These are songs which please rather than surprise; sketches for a future, unwritten masterpiece perhaps.
As the more established artist Byrne has less to prove and uses this situation to his advantage. Unsurprisingly for an artist who believes that rock music is reaching the outer limits of its sonic possibilities, Byrne explores the concept of popular music on classical instruments with glee. Whereas his work on Here Lies Love felt hidebound by the twin labels of disco and musical theatre under which it is written, Love This Giant’s more classical antecedents seems to have liberated his songwriting. The ever-so-slight hip-hop beat bubbling beneath ‘I Am An Ape’ is a contemporary touch on a song that could have stepped straight off the pages of a Brecht and Weill collaboration.
‘The One Who Broke Your Heart’ is pure Latin jazz, but is rescued from Caribbean holiday hokiness by a staccato rhythm and Byrne’s lyrics, a sly parable of wealth and plastic surgery. The album closer, ‘Outside Of Space & Time’, is a Byrne ballad – that rarest of creatures – which is transformed by the brass from the merely curious into a song with fascinating allusions to Aaron Copland. If this double headliner has a true star, though, it’s the supporting cast: the nine brass musicians with whom Clark and Byrne worked during the recording – though credit must certainly go to Clark for all the brass-led arrangements that anchor the album. By turns warm, funky and jarring, it’s the orchestration that knits together this collection.
Love This Giant is not a classic by anyone’s definition, but as an example of how two artists can explore the same idea in different ways, it is in itself worthy of our own exploration.