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March 20, 2004

Byrne takes quirks in new direction
Associated Press

Selected audio reviews:
"Grown Backwards" (Nonesuch) - David Byrne

David Byrne's "Grown Backward" blurs the line between rational and absurd by melding delightfully confusing lyrics with an unlikely orchestral backing.

It's almost a format for Byrne: Take a pop song and jumble it around until it's something else. When he was the lead singer for the Talking Heads (which he left in 1991), what the band sang about wasn't nearly as bizarre as how they sang about it. (Remember the ballad "Psycho Killer"? It was dark, sure, but danceable.)

Musically, the album breaks from the electronic tweaks and digital effects relied on so heavily in modern pop, going instead with strings and accordions. There's even a harp in a few places. "Pirates" is a heartfelt, whimsical spoof that sounds like a Broadway hit song. "Ahoy, we're pirates on parade," Byrne bellows. And "The Man Who Loved Beer" speaks for itself.

"Grown Backwards" isn't all about the zany, however. "Astronauts" is a sad and subdued ballad of an alienated man. "I poke my hand in a hornet's nest. They fly out around my face. I guess it's just self-defense," he sings. And "She Only Sleeps" continues on the serious side of the absurd. About a man in love with a stripper and looking past all of her flaws, the lyrics are more than laughable. They're kind of disturbing.

"Grown Backwards" may be outright weird in places. There's no denying that. But a decade removed from his days with the Talking Heads, Byrne's work now arguably has more serious goals than giving high school kids something to dance to.

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