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Record Review


Like the majority of his post-Talking Heads work, Byrne's fifth pop album -- and first for a label other than Warner Bros. -- is easier to appreciate than enjoy. It's a wild, and often maddening, diverse pastiche of styles -- from faux-Philly soul to folksy, string-laden ballads to Remain in Light percussive Afro/Latin-pop -- all thrown against the wall in hopes that something will stick.

That little of it does is less the fault of the individual tracks -- each intricately conceived and performed by a variety of guest musicians -- than of the overall impression that Byrne is trying too hard. Many of these tunes plod instead of float, and in the case of "The Great Intoxication," it seems Byrne is singing a melody to a different song than the band is playing. The awkward strings on "Like Humans Do" are incongruously placed atop the song like plopping a sweet maraschino cherry on a juicy steak.

Further mucking up the waters are the clunky, non-sequitur lyrics sung with Byrne's typically twitchy geek inflection that seem shoehorned into the tunes, resulting in a strained, claustrophobic texture.

Eyeball works most effectively on the percussion-heavy "Broken Things," where the artist adds subtle, staccato horns accentuating his innate stiffness. But what's missing throughout is a sense of unity, where the album can ebb and flow at its own pace. Instead, it sounds like Byrne -- who clearly worked long and hard on this release -- has lost his touch for the innocently eccentric, yet intoxicating and sinuous music he made with the Heads. What once was quirky, intriguing and memorable has stopped making sense.

David Byrne plays the Roxy Thurs., May 17.

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