David Byrne has been a smarmy academic know-it-all on record for almost 25 years. He's also been oblique, ambiguous, and often difficult to decode. So it's hard to tell how seriously we should take his latest album, a relatively earnest effort that sort of wraps up a little of every music style he has ever crossed (South American soul, bossa nova, polyrhythms galore) and does so without much trickery. By Byrne terms, Eyeball is a straightforward album that makes his past few dreary, genre-jumping releases sound like overly affected attempts to better his work with Talking Heads.
It's also his most tuneful album since the Heads' 1988 swan song Naked. Byrne revisits his funky white past by enlisting veteran Philly R&B architect Thom Bell on the funky but white "Neighborhood." And he doesn't clutter things by stuffing cultural/musical goodwill into the mix. But Eyeball is tough to grasp at times. Byrne still considers himself ambassador of world pop -- "Desconocido Soy" is his first Spanish-sung song -- and his themes can still be a tad too scholarly for pop music. And if titles mean anything, he seems to have developed some sort of Christ-imagery thing with songs such as "U.B. Jesus," "Like Humans Do," "The Moment of Conception," and "Walk on Water." Eyeball doesn't trumpet the second coming of Byrne. If anything, he's ditched the messianic garb and is shaking his ass to a layman's groove.