** (out of 4)
It's pretty cool when cool people decide to do cool stuff together – mostly because it's fun to imagine them hanging out. If you don't spend untold hours wondering what it's like when Jay-Z and Beyoncé have Kanye over for dinner, who are you?
When David Byrne and St. Vincent announced they were working on an album together, the obvious reaction was to geek out while picturing two of rock's most exciting experimentalists (one too young to remember the heyday of the other's band) jamming together in some impeccably decorated Soho loft. In practice, though, collaborations tend to be less fun than they are to imagine: one collaborator's vision overshadows the other's, perhaps, or the common denominator between the two shaves off some of the eccentricities that makes them individually exciting. Or the two sides try to outdo each other and it just gets weird.
“Love This Giant,” the David Byrne and St. Vincent collaboration, suffers, at turns, from all three problems. The Talking Head’s touch feels particularly heavy on these songs; his enthusiasm for throwing loudly mixed horns on everything frequently overpowers his collaborator's contributions. All the brass probably has a fantastic effect live, but the album often winds up sounding like a production of “The Music Man” where the trouble in River City is a rogue drum machine. The songwriting, too, opts for Byrne's observational portraiture – nobody is challenged by a song about the shallowness of TV in 2012 – over St. Vincent's typical emotional tension.
Although it never quite rises to the heights one would hope, there's too much talent present for the album to fail completely. The beautiful swell of “Optimism” works fantastically, horns turn standard-issue St. Vincent song “Ice Age” into sparkling funk and “Outside of Time and Space” ends the album with a heartfelt sigh.
In concert: Sept. 18 at Chicago Theatre
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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