David Byrne

The Knee Plays
(Nonesuch Records)

Better to burn out or fade away? The current musical tendency to fetishize the past, creating new markets through nostalgia, has come up with a new answer to this timeless rock & roll question: reissue. For the second year in a row, David Byrne has chosen this route, and the world is richer for it. Right on the heels of last year's re-release of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Nonesuch Records is reissuing The Knee Plays, another chapter in Byrne's ever-evolving exploration of music across cultural boundaries. Originally conceived as accompaniment for the inter-scene sections of avant-garde playwright and director Robert Wilson's ten-hour surrealist dance/Japanese theater production the CIVIL warS, The Knee Plays predominantly consists of brass-band instrumentals composed by Byrne, with occasional voice-over monologues strongly reminiscent of the odd stream-of-consciousness narrative of Byrne's 1986 feature film True Stories. (Knee Plays hails from the year before.) Knee Plays will sound like a great departure for those who only know Byrne's work from the clipped guitar phrases and thick synth textures of Talking Heads. Knee Plays has no guitars or traditional rock structures, just Byrne at the height of his creative powers, in a constant struggle to define what is interesting, beautiful and ugly about the world.