This collaboration between David Byrne and St. Vincent (née Annie Clark) is not a meeting of minds so much as it is a meeting of decades. Love This Giant is a project borne of mutual admiration, presumably a result of St. Vincent’s one-off highlight “Every Drop of Rain” from Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love project. The good news is that Byrne and Clark have crafted an album with an identity all its own, something not immediately identifiable as a product of either of the minds responsible for its creation. The bad news is that most of it is as lightweight and ephemeral as Fatboy Byrne’s aforementioned tribute to Imelda Marcos.
That’s not to say you’re getting fluffy love songs here. Byrne and Clark are ruminating on honesty, the media, pop culture, gender politics, and whatever else one might expect the intellectuals of pop music to bring up in the comforting guise of a catchy melody. The problem is the sheen. There are jaunty horns, there are pop beats, and there are two very talented artists putting together plenty of those catchy melodies.
We lose what they’re saying because it all sounds so appealing.
It’s likely that this is by design, that there is a juxtaposition going on here that is meant to make us a little uncomfortable. It’s the same sort of principle that makes a listener who realizes that “Every Breath You Take” is a stalker anthem sung from the first person on the 101st time they’ve sung along to it sit up straight in horror. Granted, there are no stalker anthems here, but we’re meant to let the songs wash over us for a while before we actually hear what they’re saying. The risk here is that we won’t come back enough times to actually get something out of the words, and unfortunately, that’s what happens more often than not on Love This Giant.
Too much of it leans too close to one artist or another; around half of the tracks are dominated by Byrne, and half by Clark. More back and forth, more conversational setpieces mixed in with the pseudo-solo tracks would have made for a more interesting listen.
Too much of it is dominated by horns and electronic percussion. It seems that Byrne and Clark were going for a consistent aesthetic here, but it’s difficult to give these tracks their own identities when they sound so much like each other.
Too much of it is mid-tempo. Aside from the gorgeous, elegaic final track “Outside of Space & Time”, all of the songs on Love This Giant move at a “walking pace”. Some of them lope, some of them stroll, but they all just sort of move forward at a comfortable speed until they end.
On the bright side, the aforementioned “Outside of Space & Time” is a beautiful, stage-musical-style, horn-dominated slow burn that features a David Byrne so vulnerable and open (and a St. Vincent so beautifully harmonizing with him on the choruses) that you can’t help but identify with the insecurity and hope he’s throwing into this song. Opener “Who” is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s another Byrne-dominated track, sure, but it’s quirky and catchy in all the right ways. All of the above complaints still hold true, but the rhythmic grunts and almost tuneless guitar textures in the verses give it a bit of interest that the rest of the album can’t maintain.
Love This Giant is not a bad album, really, but the ten tracks in between the bookends just can’t quite hold up to the standards set by those two brilliant songs. Byrne’s voice is strong and shaky at the same time as is his style, while Clark still sounds like she knows something you don’t in that intriguing way that she always does. Somehow, the alternating voice at the front of the songs keeps it from sounding as collaborative as it could; the midtempo lite-funk keeps it from being taken as seriously as maybe it should. It is never quite the sum of its parts, and as such it can’t help but be a bit disappointing.