David Byrne briefly considered calling Talking Heads “The Autistics,” which would’ve been apt, given how Byrne’s lyrics and attitude have always had a certain intellectual and emotional remove—as though he were an outsider, observing the curious ways of the hu-men. That’s why it makes so much sense for Byrne to collaborate with Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, who herself often seems to approach the world with the eyes of an alien, puzzled but oddly unruffled by what she sees. On Love This Giant, the album that Byrne and St. Vincent have been recording off-and-on for the past three years, Byrne largely sticks with the sound that’s served him well over the past decade or so of solo projects, drawing on complex worldbeat rhythms and pumping R&B horns to lend his quirky lyrics and jittery vocals some vigor. And St. Vincent does what she does best: mixing sketchy electronics, cinematic orchestrations, and eruptions of guitar beneath her cool, even voice. The two musicians’ styles fit neatly over each other, sounding mutually rhythmic, arty, and full of hermetic insight.
But does this pairing make too much sense? What’s lacking from Love This Giant is a sense of surprise. Anyone who knows these artists will have a good idea of what to expect from this album: a lot of tracks like “I Am An Ape” and “I Should Watch TV,” which match detached commentary on human nature with somewhat lead-footed, highly conceptualized takes on brass-band funk. Some songs on Love This Giant don’t really come to life until their breaks, when Byrne and St. Vincent let the horns, guitars, and computers duke it out, enjoying the melee. The cascading horns in “I Should Watch TV,” for example, generate a lot more excitement than Byrne’s familiar rendering of modern life through the lens of retro-futurist sci-fi.
“Predictable” is a relatively minor complaint though, given how frequently fine Love This Giant can be. Byrne and St. Vincent have honed their respective shtick well, such that she can make like an android cheerleader on the jaunty “Ice Age” and the tense “The Forest Awakes,” and he can wax eerily poetic on the haunting album-closer “Outside Of Space & Time,” and the result is seamless art-rock. And when the duo invites The Dap-Kings and Antibalas to join the party on “The One Who Broke Your Heart,” the percussive instrumentation and Byrne’s cockeyed version of a love song fuse into something as absolutely glorious as the best of Talking Heads.