A collaboration between a 60-year-old vocalist from the 80’s new-wave era and a twenty-something art-pop singer-songwriter doesn’t necessarily look good on paper. But when former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne meets up with St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) for Love This Giant, it’s apparent that these two are kindred souls from different times. For this record, at least, the pair have happened upon a common ground that works very well.
The one apparent thing that Byrne and Clark share in common is an affinity for the off-kilter and avant-garde—so to put it mildly, putting these two highly creative souls in the same room with no sense of direction could have resulted in utter chaos. So what do you do to avoid a train wreck? You throw something into the mix that is common to neither artist, and you let them begin creating around that, in order to give them a sense of focus. For David Byrne and St. Vincent, this focal point was apparently a generous horn section, and a leaning toward jazz and funk styles. Whoever had this idea deserves a medal, because it gave these artists a brand new canvas to paint on—and the end result is a collection of jazz-influenced songs unlike anything you’ve heard before. A stroke of genius, in my opinion.
Now, to be clear, this isn’t background music for dinnertime—unless, of course, you’re having a really weird meal. To get the full experience of Love This Giant requires you to listen with both ears, not just have it playing in the background. The complex arrangements and blending of sounds on each song is pure candy for the creative mind, repeatedly going right to the edge of chaos without falling off. Eclectic, yet surprisingly accessible.
Also to be clear, this isn’t a jazz/funk record—it’s a jazz/funk influenced record. Nor is it a complete digression for either artist; both St. Vincent and David Byrne bring their own unique artistic spin to these songs, and both have turns in the spotlight. “I Should Watch TV,” for example, is definitely a David Byrne moment, with its strange vocal/rhythmic sampling, social commentary and throwaway melody line. Likewise, “Optimist” serves as a perfect vehicle for Annie Clark’s emotive baroque-pop style. So neither artist is forsaking his/her identity here; it’s just that the musical style they’ve gathered around has given them ability to create a cohesive work—and it works.
Love This Giant, then, comes across as one of those chance magical moments of two distinct paths crossing to produce a piece of musical art greater than the sum of its parts. This is a great record, so unique and complete in its expression that I almost hope they don’t try for a follow-up. It’s hard to imagine it would be this magical the second time around.