David Byrne

The Knee Plays

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For David Byrne, this was one of the last times he would write in the hyperobjective style that marked his work with Talking Heads up through Remain in Light and some of Speaking in Tongues. The occasion, the chance to write interludes -- or "knee plays" -- for a large scale Robert Wilson opera, The Civil Wars, called on this kind of approach, Wilson being as detached as Byrne. Musically, Byrne was strangely influenced by hearing the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and created these brass-led marches that sound like an art school has landed on Bourbon Street, though in places it is also reminiscent of a sunnier patch of the territory staked out in The Catherine Wheel, his other dance score. In the mix, Byrne stirs in some traditional gospel tunes, arranged to match the iconoclastic style. Byrne's words, performed in his dry, ever-so-slightly amused style, are acutely observed and/or humorously naïve slices of American life -- anthropological tomfoolery. The wry aphorism-led "In the Future" ("In the future, water will be expensive"; "In the future, we will not have time for leisure activities") is the album highlight, and a perfect end to this experiment. [Nonesuch issued The Knee Plays on CD for the first time in 2007, adding eight bonus tracks to the original release.]

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