David in David’s Shadow: Comeback Album’s in a Post Blackstar World

Story posted January 28, 2018 in Arts & Entertainment, CommRadio by Scott Perdue

Since the late David Bowie’s critically acclaimed Blackstar was released in 2016, a resurgence of artists with longstanding careers are returning to the studio for new album releases. Artist’s such as Blondie, Squeeze and now David Byrne are bringing the sounds of the 1970s and the 1980s back into the fold. But for artists whose style was coined as “new-wave” to return after so much has evolved in the musical landscape, can their music still feel new and innovative?

Byrne and Bowie have always been considered leaders of the new-wave/ alternative movement. His work with the Talking Heads launched Byrne into stardom and established him as a fascinating pop culture figure. His solo artist pursuits have always pushed innovation in music forward, incorporating a blend of African, Hispanic and other world music influences.

Byrne’s return has been slow but steady since his last solo project Grown Backwards in 2004. In 2012 Byrne collaborated with St. Vincent on the art pop album Love This Giant with mild critical success. Looking to collaborate again, Byrne reached out to pioneering producer Brian Eno to co-write his upcoming album American Utopia, who has been a part of Byrne’s work ever since the early days of Talking Heads.

Byrne’s recent role as the frontrunner for his movement, “Reasons to Be Cheerful” in which he attempts to look on the brighter side of our world, has led him to seek out the positive instead of the negative, inspiring the release of this new album. Bowie in his final album had incorporated a more dark, harsh and haunting theme while Byrne is attempting to shift the spectrum and concentrate on being optimistic, hopeful and inviting. Byrne has said of the forthcoming album, “These songs don’t describe an imaginary or possibly impossible place, but rather attempt to depict the world we live in now.” With the somber atmosphere of Blackstar looming over, the positive outlook could prove jarring for listeners expecting a similar moody approach.

The album’s first single, “Everybody’s Coming To My House,” utilizes the funk-inspired rhythms and innovative blend of genre influences that have been featured in Byrne’s previous works. Blackstar, on the other hand, saw Bowie experimenting with more ambient and jazz-inspired instrumentation. This imposes upon comeback albums a certain expectation to reinvent the sound they were known for. It’s unsure if Byrne will be able to rebrand his music to keep up with the current landscape of the music world, or if the single will simply serve as a bait and switch to bring in older fans.

Bowie looked for inspiration from modern artists such as Kenrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly when crafting Blackstar. The experimental hip-hop group Death Grips also served as a source of creative intrigue for Bowie, as well as LCD Soundsystem frontman, James Murphy, who played a minor role in the album’s creation. By the same token, Byrne has always been an artist with an interest and love for collaboration, with American Utopia boasting features and production work from Sampha, Oneohtrix Point Never and prolific indie/alternative R&B Producer Rodaidh McDonald. Byrne has created very successful music in the past through collaboration, and there’s no reason to believe American Utopia won’t follow the trend and become another innovative piece in Byrne’s repertoire.

Byrne’s talents have poised him to create an album that could potentially match Blackstar critically. However, in the dark aftermath of Bowie’s final project, can Byrne really bring an optimistic light to the modern state of comeback albums? American Utopia is announced to fully release March 9 with a full ten new tracks straight from the minds of Byrne and Eno and will be accompanied by a tour which Byrne describes as his “most ambitious show” since 1984’s Stop Making Sense.


Scott Perdue is a freshman majoring in film/video. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.