Following a brief brush with country music, T-Bone Burnett's seventh solo release, The Talking Animals, continues the studio rock he began in 1983 with Proof Through the Night. Burnett once again starts with basic rock, pop, and folk roots, which he wastes no time in subverting, adding assorted twists along the way. Along with co-producer and guitarist David Rhodes, he colors a foundation of steady rhythms driven by drummer Mickey Curry and bassist Tony Levin with affected and atmospheric guitars, as well as Mitchell Froom's various keyboards. One exception is the Van Dyke Parks-arranged "Image," with its swirling strings and one verse repeated in four different languages by Burnett and three guest vocalists (Cait O'Riordan, Rubén Blades, and Ludmilla). Here he sheds the bounds of the standard pop song format to create a piece that seems to have sprung from a Weill-Brecht musical. Lyrically, The Talking Animals, like his best work, can be scathing, searching, and surreal. Burnett explores uncertainty, longing, fear, lust, fantasy, greed, and eventually justice and mercy in his quest for "The Wild Truth" (the title of one of the album's best tracks). Often criticized for preaching, Burnett seems to ask as much of himself as he does of the cast of characters here, even allowing one of them to denounce him in the wonderful final cut, "The Strange Case of Frank Cash and the Morning Paper" (although it's T-Bone Burnett who gets the last word). Even with a few less than stellar songs, The Talking Animals is a strong, inspired record. Bono, Peter Case, and Tonio K. each co-write with Burnett, as well as lending support on vocals.
AllMusic Review by Brett Hartenbach