David Byrne’s American Utopia: Fighting difficulties with false cheerfulness
27 August 2018
This past March, singer-songwriter David Byrne released his eleventh studio album, entitled American Utopia. The album is intended to be the musical component of a larger multimedia project entitled Reasons to Be Cheerful, which is an attempt at spreading “positivity” in the wake of the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.
Byrne first became well known in the 1970s for his work with Talking Heads, a group that had considerable popular and artistic success, finally splitting up in 1991. Byrne then set out on a solo career. His music has been heavily influenced by African and Latin polyrhythmic styles and features elements of rock mixed heavily with brass, string and electronic instrumentation. He frequently shares songwriting credits with Brian Eno, and, in 2012, produced a collaboration album (Love This Giant) with St. Vincent. American Utopia is his first solo album since 2004’s Grown Backwards.
Reasons to Be Cheerful is a multimedia project that Byrne created this past January as a response to the political crisis in the United States. He wrote on the project’s web site that the year 2017 was particularly hellacious due to events such as the US presidential election, the French election and the Brexit vote.
During the 2016 US presidential election, he indirectly encouraged his fan base to vote for Hillary Clinton out of fear of Donald Trump.
“We’re better than this,” he wrote. “We are a country that, to the surprise of many, elected a black president… folks turned out in droves to vote for Obama. Citizens in many areas—especially places with young, low-income and minority populations—got out to the polls and…