1989 - Rei Momo Print
Sunday, 03 August 2008 13:58
Rei Momo
In 1989 David Byrne released his first post-Talking Heads solo album 'Rei Momo' ("King of carnival"), which melted lyrics in his familiar style with Latin rhythms.

Working with New York-based musicians from the bands of Ruben Blades, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Wilfredo Vargas, and the Brazilian band Os Paralamas do Sucesso, and writing songs with well-known musicians such as Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colon, Byrne explored various styles, some familiar to Anglo Western culture -samba, rumba, merengue- and some not -pagode, cumbia, plena.

The lyrics were occasionally sung in Spanish or Portugese but the subjects and point of view were distinctively Byrnian. There were paeans of daily life ('Dirty Old Town'), almost straight romantic ballads ('I Know Sometimes A Man Is Wrong'), and an anthemic call to arms ('Don't Want To Be Part Of Your World'). The bulk of songs, however, featured catchy non-sequiturs ('The Call Of The Wild', 'Good And Evil').

After over a decade of concentrated songwriting, Byrne still maintained that 'music, lyrics and images are most exciting when you can't quite get a handle on them'. Rei Momo was perhaps his most controversial move till date.

In the early days of Talking Heads, there had been murmurs about 'arty rock'. During the expanded band period, some new wave critics had harped about a 'retrograde' direction (a turning back to rhythm and blues which was seen in some quarters as an impediment to exploring new sounds). And, of course, Byrne had not been without critics among those who took issue with his artistic jaywalking across genres. 'I'm not going to restrict myself musically because I'm only supposed to listen to whatever they think I'm supposed to listen to', Byrne said. 'You can't control musicians that way. I don't think you need to have grown up with some music to be touched by it'.

The most persuasive argument in Byrne's favor was an extensive live tour with a stellar band of mostly Hispanic and Brazilian musicians, including the singer Margareth Menezes. In performance, this ensemble transformed Rei Momo's rough edges (a sometimes uneasy mix of choppy lyrics and gliding rhythms, plus a studio gloss of overdubbed tracks that dampened the music's inherent exuberance) into exactly what Byrne had set out to achieve: a music that combined traditional styles and a contemporary sensibility. Even the album's major critics were won over by the live version of Rei Momo. 'Ecstasy in within reach', wrote Jon Pareles in the New York Times reviewing the show, after he'd written up the album as 'flat' and 'studied'.

Tracks:

  • Independence Day
  • Make Believe Mambo
  • The Call Of The Wild
  • Dirty Old Town
  • The Rose Tattoo
  • Loco De Amor
  • The Dream Police
  • Don't Want To Be Part Of Your World
  • Marching Through The Wilderness
  • Good And Evil
  • Lie To Me
  • Office Cowboy
  • Women Vs. Men
  • Carnival Eyes
  • I Know Sometimes A Man Is Wrong *
* = Also known as "Song of the Trees", and released under that title on the compilation album "Like a Girl I Want you to Keep Coming".

To promote the 'Rei Momo' album, Warner Brothers released a promotional CD called 'Words And Music' with music from the album and an extensive interview with David Byrne.