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 'n' roll question: the 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 rerelease of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, NoneSuch records is re-issuing The Knee Plays, another chapter in Byrne's ever-evolving exploration of music across cultural boundaries. Originally conceived as accompaniment for the interscene sections of avant-garde director Robert Wilson's ten-hour surrealist dance/Japanese theater production CIVIL wars: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down, The Knee Plays consists predominantly of brass-band instrumentals composed by Byrne, with occasional voice-over monologues strongly reminiscent of the odd stream-of-consciousness narrative of his 1986 feature film, True Stories. (Knee Plays hails from the year before.) Knee Plays will probably sound notably different for those who only know Byrne's work from the clipped guitar phrases and thick synth textures of Talking Heads. The album has no guitars or traditional rock structures, just Byrne at the height of his creative prowess, in a constant struggle to define what is interesting, beautiful, and ugly about the world.
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