David Byrne Critical Essays

Introduction

David Byrne 1953?–

American songwriter.

Byrne is one of the most prominent songwriters to come out of the New Wave movement of the late 1970s. He writes mostly for the group Talking Heads, although he has also collaborated with avant-garde musician Brian Eno and dancer Twyla Tharp. Byrne's songs are intensely private explorations of human emotions and personal observations of commonplace events. Probably the most important theme running through his songs is his despairing view of contemporary American society. Byrne has been criticized for the triteness of some of his lyrics. However, he is less concerned with expressing complex thoughts than with composing lyrics that are strictly logical. John Picarella has written of Byrne's songs, "Perceptions and sensations are experienced systematically, almost as if they're on a graph."

Talking Heads: 77 is considered a triumphant debut album. It introduces the major topics of Byrne's songs: love, fear, and violence. Byrne's staccato-punctuated singing style in songs like "Psycho Killer" heightens the urgency and impact of his lyrics. The songs on More Songs about Buildings and Food center on the need to be in control of one's emotions and the unpleasant result of distancing oneself from emotional involvement. Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues indicate that Byrne is becoming interested in unusual rhythm structures and is moving from individual concerns to more universal ones.