Close is usually good enough in making records as well as horseshoes. But Byrne has set unusually high standards for himself, and as competent as he is in this foray into sounds generated down Rio way, he never really catches fire. That’s especially surprising because it shouldn’t take much to catch a spark if you have the right percussive elements and those dancing piano chords that are so prevalent in Afro-Brazilian music. Those elements are all here, and he has also given players like Willie Colon plenty of room to move. Yet on Rei Momo (“King of Carnival” in Portuguese), the head Talking Head’s own quirky singing style doesn’t vary the pace enough. His ode to sexuality, “Independence Day” (“Now and then I get horny/ At night you do”), is less a piece of music than a testament to how verbally loose Byrne is these days compared with the way he acted in the Heads’ nascent days, when he did a terrific imitation of a repressed urban neurotic. Background vocalist Kirsty MacColl extends Byrne’s limited vocal abilities on “Don’t Want to Be Part of Your World.” But he lies down and plays dead when, on “Women vs. Men,” he sings: “Women have their world/ And men have ours/ We’re into sports/ And they’re into flowers.” Thanks for the insight, Dave.
So should you fork over eight or nine bucks for the album? If you’ve followed Byrne to this point, it’s worth a listen. But there are no guarantees you will think it’s samba kind of wonderful, or even the equal of the two Byrne-produced albums by Brazilian musicians, Beleza Tropical and O Samba, that appeared earlier this year. (Sire)