I haven't bought a David Byrne solo album since 1989's Latin-inflected "Rei Momo". I was a fan of the Talking Heads, particularly "Little Creatures" and "True Stories" (still one of the most underrated albums of the 80s, probably because of its association with the David Byrne-produced movie of the same nameit is the album that Radiohead got their name from). In the last 6 months, however, I also got into a lot of their earlier material like "Talking Heads '77" and "More Songs About Buildings and Food", thanks to some fortunate used bin discoveries.
I bought "Rei Momo" mostly because I was really impressed with the energy of the two songs that Byrne performed from it on a Saturday Night Live appearance. But the studio recordings didn't live up to the promise of the live performance; it just seemed a little overproduced, and this excessive studio meddling slowed down the natural tempo of the songs enough that everything felt very midtempo and bland, lacking either the playful energy of Byrne's vocals with the Talking Heads or the explosive energy of the latin percussionists that had been brought to life on SNL.
Since that disappointment, I haven't had a compelling reason to give Byrne's work a serious listen. But as I said, I recently got into the early Talking Heads material, and when I started hearing rumblings that this album returned to the simplicity of those early recordings, I became intrigued and decided to give "Look Into the Eyeball" a chance.
And I'm not disappointed at all this time. I bought this album the same day that I bought Finley Quaye's "Vanguard", G. Love's "Electric Mile", and The Beta Band's "The Three EPs", figuring that I would probably only get to listen to it a few times before the June 5 release of "Amnesiac", since these other three albums were initially more interesting to me than "Eyeball". But Byrne's record quickly took over my CD player, despite the fact that I really do like these other three records.
The early buzz for "Eyeball" was somewhat on target: it is a simple, stripped down record at its core, but it is also awash in cascades of musical textures. String sections create orchestral flourishes that float beguilingly through the songs; horn sections add an extra punch; and many, many kinds of electronic and analog percussion (including a lot of the Latin instruments and rhythms that were the focus of "Rei Momo") percolate and bubble up through every song (most tracks seem to have at least three or four significant drum parts that overlap and intertwine to create rhythms that are as complex as anything by Nine Inch Nails or Public Enemy). The real secret to the strength of this record is that it uses the extra ornamentation to supplement the basic song structures instead of overwhelming them. The focus remains on the pop hooks and Byrne's voice, where it belongs, but the extra touches add a depth of playfulness and complexity that make the songs altogether richer and more satisfying.
This is really a great album, worthy of a place on your shelf next to "Little Creatures" or "Talking Heads '77". This is the album that the Talking Heads might have made if they had decided to stay together and accompany David Byrne on his musical journeys of the last decade. Luckily for us, we don't have to wait for a Talking Heads reunion: we can just throw on "Look Into the Eyeball".