Pretend you’re back in high school, and David Byrne and Annie Clark are in your class (forget the age gap for a moment). They’re the weird kids who forgo prom, instead preferring to dance alone to records in their bedroom. Fast-forward to 2012, and they are still the same old weirdos, but now they’re also the cool kids, hugely successful and loved by thousands. And now, they’ve collaborated to create the highly-anticipated Love This Giant — an album that feels like a 45-minute, brass-filled inside joke.

David Byrne and St. Vincent

Love This Giant
4AD


While almost any living person with a set of healthy ears has heard of Talking Heads and its founding member, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer David Byrne, Annie Clark is a name less recognized but equally adored. Known for her band St. Vincent, with its manic, distorted guitar lines and cherubic vocals, fans anticipating Love This Giant may be unsure of what to expect from her alliance with the genteel David Byrne.

With the release of the first single and first track off the album “Who,” the public was finally given a metallic taste of Love This Giant. “Who” seems to be a peek inside the funky relationship Byrne and Clark established in their time together. Cheeky horns kick off the song, and Byrne begins a series of punchy questions balanced by Clark’s croons. Simply put, “Who” is fun — a clear departure from the dark, I’m-going-crazy stuff St. Vincent fans are used to.

“Who,” like much of the album, has a heavy dose of Byrne’s vocals, which makes Giant seem unfairly lopsided. The idea for the brass rampant throughout Love This Giant, however, was all Annie. Those ever-present horns attempt to counteract any overt influence on the album from either artist, but Love This Giant resembles more of a babbling, joking Talking Head — a shame given that Clark really does have the voice of a saint.

But Annie does have her moments. In “Ice Age,” Clark’s voice is smooth and crystalline as she warns, “We won’t know how much we lost until the winter thaws.” While the same jaunty brass band bounces along and keeps rhythm, the lyrics linger on sinister in standard St. Vincent style. “Lightning” gravitates toward Annie’s earlier days, combining a crunchy guitar that pounds along with Clark’s almost menacingly saccharine vocals.

For the most part, Love This Giant remains a good time — one that not everyone is sure how to enjoy. Songs like “I Should Watch TV” and “I Am an Ape” bop along despite the awkward, almost haphazard nature of Byrne’s voice. But part of the album’s charm derives from its slightly off personality. Giant could have been nuzzled under layers of Clark’s vibrato, but that would have been too easy. Instead the duo went for something a bit more bizarre — pointedly less attractive or expected. Just look at the album cover: Annie with a distorted, protruding jawline while Byrne’s chin features a grotesquely handsome cleft.

In an interview with Pitchfork, Clark designates the label of “harmless freaks” to herself and Byrne, which is appropriate given that Love This Giant is defiantly abnormal. While Giant may at first seem like a big joke whose punch line is only understood by kids who sit at the art table during lunch, the album is hardly untouchable. Giant is indeed quite loveable, but fans of both David Byrne and St. Vincent might have to look past its awkward outside appearance first.

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