Collaborations. Sometimes they work, other times they don’t. More often than not, one artist outshines the other, but in the case of Talking Head’s David Byrne and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark it’s more of a synchronicity. Both artists possess dominant, distinctive musical personalities that naturally lead any project they work on. But with Love This Giant, they work together, stacking on each other to create a provocative, mesmerizing masterpiece.
As the album’s artwork suggests, this is a work that may cause a double- or triple-take. At first glance, the art is seemingly domestic—a portrait of Clark and Byrne. But look closer and you see pieces of flesh jutting out of the beautiful woman’s face and an enriched cleft in the handsome man’s chin. It’s jarring and uncomfortable, but it’s also magnificent and stunning, as is the record’s contents.
The duo successfully crosses Clark’s talent of romanticizing morbidity through melody and Byrne’s knack for eccentric pop by using a prominent horn section both as a bridge between the two and an unfamiliar element that distinguishes this as a partnered effort rather than a “David Byrne Record” or an “Annie Clark Record.” The brass plays the role of a third member in the album, setting the mood from song to song.
Love This Giant begins with its first single, “Who.” A fragmented horn section starts the song off and is quickly organized by a funky percussion beat. Byrne’s distinctive voice rings out while Clark feverishly lets out primal grunting in the background before taking the reigns during the chorus as she asks, “Who is an honest man?” The two harmonize, their pipes strained, creating a rough yet compelling sound. About two-and-a-half minutes in, the song transitions into a softer tone, but that frenetic energy is still intact by way of percussion as the track chugs along at a rapid rate.
This powerful, in-your-face tenet is the glue that holds the album together. Not one of the record’s 12 songs follows a conventional format. If the vocals lean more toward a placid tone, the complex instrumentation questions the song’s stability (“Dinner For Two,” “Optimist,”) and many of the songs possess a macabre, mysterious vocal quality (“I Am An Ape,” “Forest Awakes,”). The album follows the direction of a musical; with each song painting it’s own scene and mood, evoking emotions through tone and pitch.
The album ends with the otherworldly “Outside of Space & Time.” Slow, booming horns set the pace and Byrne’s vocals follow suite. Spacey synths float weightlessly in the background as he and Clark harmonize. “Someday I’ll step out from the shadows, into galactic matter outside of space and time,” they say. Their voices fade and the last minute of the song is given to the beloved horn section, which epically ascends to the heavens, crescendos and stops. The perfect ending to such a chilling story.