Picks and Pans Review: Music for the Knee Plays

UPDATED 07/29/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/29/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

David Byrne

In the layered, percussive, communal style that Byrne and Brian Eno began exploring on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and that Talking Heads perfected on Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues, melody was superimposed separately on prerecorded rhythm tracks. In his latest solo project, as on the new Heads album, Byrne concentrates on melody and harmony from the outset. The Knee Plays are 12 short compositions for brass ensemble to be played as interludes connecting—like a musical knee—the various acts of Robert Wilson's immense avant-garde opera, The Civil Wars. Byrne's inspiration, as he acknowledges on the album jacket, is the Dirty Dozen Brass Band of New Orleans. The Sound of Business and I Bid You Goodnight, for instance, are skillful salutes to the Dirty Dozen's animated, bountiful style. Byrne uses the brass choir idiosyncratically, on some numbers producing an upright, peckingly rhythmic kind of music (albeit with a sumptuous sound, thanks to top-drawer musicians). With Admiral Perry, you can imagine a battalion of toy soldiers marching. Winter, with its droning taffy-pull chords, leads Byrne back into the ambient-sound territory he and Eno explored memorably on Bush of Ghosts. On about half the pieces, Byrne recites vocals in his egghead-marveling-at-the-mundane mode. These are evocative and filled with insight but old hat for him and no match for what he has to say verbally on Little Creatures. (ECM)

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