There will be two main groups of people coming to listen to this album: David Byrne fans and St. Vincent (Annie Clark) fans. Each group will come to this album with very different expectations and will reap very different rewards from their collaboration album, “Love This Giant.” Indeed, each artist also comes into this album with a very different history and with very different aims. At the risk of attempting to read both artists’ minds, it would appear that Annie Clark grasped this album as a chance to record with one of the greatest and most creative artists of the past 30 years, enigmatic Scottish art-pop legend David Byrne; whereas for Byrne himself, this is yet again a chance for a constantly creative and experimental artist to collaborate with another artist of the same ilk.
Love This Giant is not the greatest album either artist has released, however, there is a lot to love about an album that catches your ear and grows on you. Perhaps the single greatest contribution to the coherence of this album is Annie Clark’s addition of horns and the album’s liberal use of saxophones. It is this instrumentation that ultimately becomes the theme of “Love This Giant.” Forming a backbone, from their bombastic use on album opener “Who” to their subtle support of final track “Outside of Space and Time,” saxophones and brass keep this album driving forwards as both Clark and Byrne share vocals on what are truly some amazing tracks.
Kicking off with the swaggering sleazy saxophone based track “Who,” “Love This Giant” has a distinctive energy to it. Its repetitive style and punctuation with the opening lyric of “Who” at each line, gives it a feeling similar to David Bowie’s “Fame.” The saxes return on second track, “Weekend In The Dust,” where Clark’s distinctive vocals take over and sound very much at home with this funky backing, which is so different to her standard guitar driven fare. Sounding not unlike Fiona Apple, this is much more upbeat and dancey than St. Vincent fans are used to, but after three albums that have undoubtedly progressed, but remained within the same vein, this is a chance to see how Clark functions within a different model than her usual. The good news for St. Vincent fans is that Clark not only copes, but flourishes under the challenge. As you would expect, Byrne also flourishes under the challenge of collaboration, shown through the stripped back “Dinner For Two” which later segues into a Bowie style funk overlaid with Sting-sounding vocals.
Of course it would be a foolish artist who produces a collaboration album without any nods to their previous work and it is therefore no surprise to see Clark revert to type one third of the way through the album, on track “Ice Age.” Very much focussed on the traditional St. Vincent sound, “Love This Giant’s” now trademark horns are reduced to a muted undercurrent that ensures this track still fits within the refreshingly new sound of the album. The early template established on this album is again messed with on Byrne’s contribution “I Am An Ape,” a track that begins sounding like an excerpt from Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” Byrne’s strong vocals develop a haunting feel on top of a disconcerting minor key. The song then quickly transitions to an upbeat drum machine and horn backed theatrical verse that sees Byrne paint himself as “an ape, a hairy beast,” presumably in contrast to Clark’s “Beauty.”
One of the most surprising things about “Love This Giant is that we don’t hear a focus put on Clark’s distinctive guitar work until halfway through the album when she rips into the ending of “The Forest Awakes.” Ultimately, the one disappointment in what is a great and very likeable album, St. Vincent fans will surely be disappointed by the lack of guitar work Clark indulges in. By this point in the album, Byrne launches into his strongest work on the album, powering through a frantic and introspective “I Should Watch TV” before continuing on to “Lazarus,” which comes across as a dance version of Nick Cave’s work with Grinderman, a truly unique combination.
Ultimately, “Love This Giant” is endearingly personal album from two of music’s most private artists. Not entirely out of each artist’s realm of work, this record still brings a new element to both Byrne and Clark’s sound. To truly enjoy “Love This Giant” you need to like or at least tolerate Byrne’s previous work, but if you do, this album is going to quickly find itself on your list of favourite albums of 2012.