Crushed By the Giant
It’s not too farfetched to imagine that when David Byrne found himself in a studio recording Love This Giant (released September 11th) with the angelic, guitar shredding Annie Clark, he may have asked himself “Well, how did I get here?”
The two come from two different genres, two different generations, and two different devout followings. At surface level, the dots connecting the music of Clark’s moniker, St. Vincent, and Talking Heads’ former frontman David Byrne seem scarce.
However, the duo’s foundation for Love This Giant didn’t completely start from scratch. In 2010, Byrne and Clark actually collaborated on a less-than-impressive track for Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s score, Here Lies Love — now forgotten in the depths of mega-fans’ comprehensive music collections (with good reason).
Regardless, with their praised solo albums and collaborations ranging from Byrne’s works with Brian Eno to Clark’s notable heart-racing and body-warming INXS covers with Beck, both Byrne and Clark are deserved icons prolific in emphasizing their styles and talents with other musicians.
The thought of St. Vincent & David Byrne collaborating on an entire album seemed surprisingly sensible, and after the release of their single, “Who,” many fans assumed it likely that Love This Giant would be a hit.
“Who be my valentine?” Byrne asks between trumpet blows and drum beats on the catchy single and album open. With the Siren-like Clark seducing Byrne’s classically strained yet strong vocals strung across a melting pot of jazz melody and sleek guitar-playing, “Who” is by far the boldest, catchiest, and most well-received track on Love This Giant. The track introduces the album with the initial reaction that it will be the ideal collaboration — something incorporating the original qualities of both musicians, while allowing them to evolve in new ways.
But that is not the dynamic of Love This Giant. Despite the natural assumption after hearing “Who,” the album isn’t the result of the two musicians intertwining distinctive characteristics while breaking out of their comfort zone. Rather, it’s the result of two well-known and adored musicians abandoning their golden backgrounds for something chaotic and built of brass.
“Who’s this, inside of me?” Byrne shrieks midway through “Who,” kicking the track with a jolt of sudden passion and a foreshadowing the remainder of Love This Giant’s nature — Byrne and Clark’s unrecognizable soul possessed by a jazz spirit haunting their music with what sounds like a circus of brass directing a structure-less album.
Drastically different — as each song on the album is — “Who” transitions into the funky “Weekend In The Dust,” utilizing a sassy side of Clark’s vocals amongst what sounds regrettably similar to a high school marching band during practice. It’s an immediate step down from “Who,” even though it’s one of the more accessible and interesting tracks on Love This Giant.
Throughout the album, Clark’s vocals differentiate expansively. Ranging from the spunky, funk style in “Weekend In The Dust” to a pitch and tone only suitable for a Disney princess on the tracks “Optimist” and “The Forest Awakes,” Clark comes off as both flat and schizophrenic.
Clark’s vocals aren’t the only schizophrenic aspect of Love This Giant — the whole album is overwhelmingly hectic with sudden transitions and high highs barely balancing low lows. More is less for Love This Giant; perhaps with use of steadier transition, loyalty to style, and a more polished cornucopia of brass, it could have been a culturally important album.
It seems unlikely that many musicians would refuse working with the talents of Byrne and Clark. The amateurish brass on Love This Giant would have been completely avoidable with the help of more skilled trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and horn players. If the duo had approached a musician like Beirut’s Zach Condon, who has a pristine talent in the realm of brass, the genre shift could have been an evolutionary milestone for the artists. But as symbolized by the track “I Am An Ape,” Byrne and Clark didn’t quite evolve with the shift of genre — they regressed.
It’s really hard to love a giant too big to notice that it let two idols fall flat. Combining a new and an older icon, Love This Giant had high potential to be a timeless album weaving together the sounds of two generations. Instead, Byrne and Clark created something so busy and identity-confused that its emotion and meaning are lost.
Amy Anderson is a Magazine Journalism major at University of Georgia. She enjoys reviewing music and film of all kinds, and hopes to add more to the experience of listening or watching by adding critical perspective and showing various sides to works that audiences love (or hate, or feel indifferent towards). As well, when writing features, she strives to offer a glimpse into the artist’s creative process or ideology through engaging stories or thoughts. Her goal is to offer audiences unseen insight on creative works while opening eyes to worthwhile music and art. Amy's current five favorite musicians— though it’s always in rotation— are Andrew Bird, Beirut, Björk, John Maus, and Milosh. Her "guilty" pleasure is Robyn— if you don’t like her, you’re probably just pretending.