Uh-Oh

David Byrne

Luaka Bop / Warner Bros., 1991

http://www.davidbyrne.com

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/26/2009

David Byrne’s efforts outside Talking Heads were a largely experimental trip. His work with Brian Eno and his dance and film scores fell far outside the musical mainstream, often even farther than the way-out-there Heads traveled. Uh-Oh is the first release that could really be called a conventional rock album as far as his solo work goes.

Uh-Oh segues nicely from the closing days of Talking Heads, a sweet collection of beat-infused pop. Unlike a lot of his legacy work, which was dark, often disturbing and surreal, these songs almost fall into the realm of sunny bubblegum pop. Big beats carry Byrne’s often goofy yet clever lyrics, and bright, upbeat melodies with a Third World flavor back his always energetic and eccentric delivery. The emphasis on Latin and African beats is a large part of what sets this above an average pop album.  Some great horn work flavors several tracks; “Mambo Cowboy (Hey Look At Me Now)” and “Monkey Man” both feature a fusion of mariachi, calypso and Motown. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One of the side effects of TH’s growth from quirky, avant garde art-pop to bubbly world-pop was accessibility to a broader audience. A more conventional sound (albeit still way out there – little the Heads did was ever conventional) brought in folks who were put off by their brilliantly oddball roots. There’s a long road between “Warning Sign” and “Burning Down the House,” and a lot of folks didn’t make the trip and were left by the road scratching their heads (no pun intended. Really.) Along with changes in overall musical style, Byrne’s songwriting became more conventional, but in a good way. He went from brilliantly concocting mercurial stream of consciousness imagery to something more linguistic without losing any of his quirky charm. 

I was thinking of a quote from Michael Stipe of R.E.M. defending his song “Shiny Happy People” and the validity of goofy pop songs in modern music: “We don't all have to be bleeding on the page to be valid, there’s still room for big dumb pop songs”. Agreed, and several of these tracks definitely fall into the big dump pop songs variety; however, it’s dumb as in dance in your underwear, not as in unintelligent. “Girls On My Mind” rides a bubbly reggae rhythm, and Byrne’s dorky McLovin-esque rant on his obsession with the fairer sex is so  full of geeky bravado, it feels completely honest.

This disc will immediately make you think Talking Heads, but that's not a bad thing; the group was creative and still going strong when Byrne left, and he had a few years doing non-pop work to store up a lot of creative energy. It’s a very good album in its own right, and something Heads fans can latch on to with ease.

Rating: B+

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© 2009 Bruce Rusk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Luaka Bop / Warner Bros., and is used for informational purposes only.