American Utopia is the seventh solo album (and tenth studio album overall) by Scottish-American art pop musician David Byrne, released in 2018.
Created as a part of Byrne's wider "Reasons to Be Cheerful" project, which examines the perseverance of optimism in the face of the increasing bleakness of the world during the early 21st century (a concept stretching back to 2008's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today), the album melds together Byrne's trademark leftfield brand of world-infused art pop and the thudding electropop that rose to prominence over the course of the past two decades. True to the project, the album covers themes of optimism and a hope for the betterment of the United States and the search to truly fulfill the idea of all men being as equal as they are in creation.
Production-wise, the album sees Byrne working with recurring collaborator Brian Eno again for the first time since Everything That Happens Will Happen Today ten years prior, and marks Byrne's first collaboration with Eno to feature the latter as just a producer rather than a co-musician since Talking Heads' landmark album Remain in Light all the way back in 1980. Scottish indie producer Rodaidh McDonald also provides co-production duties alongside Byrne himself, with the union of the three's musical preferences resulting in a unique modernization of Byrne's Signature Style.
The end result was Byrne's biggest commercial success since his Talking Heads days: debuting and peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, it was his first solo record to enter the top ten, further topping Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart and becoming the 74th best-selling album of 2018. Promoting the album also brought Byrne back into the mainstream limelight after decades of sitting comfortably as a cult hit post-Talking Heads, with Byrne appearing at the Coachella 2018 festival, conducting both an expansive US tour and a Broadway show over the course of 2018 and 2019, and performing on Saturday Night Live at the start of 2020 (his first appearance on the show since 1989, his second appearance there as a solo artist, and his third overall). A Concert Film based on the tour, directed by Spike Lee, debuted in late 2020, marking Byrne's first concert film since the Direct to Video Between the Teeth — Live in 1993 and his first theatrical concert film since Stop Making Sense in 1984 (acting as a Spiritual Successor to both).
American Utopia was supported by one single: a digital-only release of "Everybody's Coming to My House".
- "I Dance Like This" (3:34)
- "Gasoline and Dirty Sheets" (3:20)
- "Every Day is a Miracle" (4:46)
- "Dog's Mind" (2:30)
- "This is That" (4:31)
- "It's Not Dark Up Here" (4:11)
- "Bullet" (3:10)
- "Doing the Right Thing" (3:39)
- "Everybody's Coming to My House" (3:30)
- "Here" (4:14)
There's only one way to trope a flower, but there's millions of ways to be free
- All There in the Manual: The interior of the album's gatefold features an essay by Byrne explaining the goal of the album and the impetus behind it.
- Animal Motifs: Used throughout "Every Day is a Miracle" and "Dog's Mind" to examine the subjectivity of morality and social concern, with both including comparisons to dogs and the former placing particular focus on animals one might find on a farm (i.e. chickens, donkeys, and even cockroaches in addition to the aforementioned dogs).
- Animated Music Video: "Everybody's Coming to My House" features three drawings of Byrne's face both mouthing along to the song and dancing to it; these same faces also appear on the CD and LP disc labels.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: Lightly parodied in "Every Day is a Miracle", in which Byrne jokingly brags about having "the dick of a donkey."
- Black Comedy: "Bullet", a flowery-worded song about being fatally shot from the perspective of the bullets (whether or not it's the same guy or a different one each verse is never clarified).
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Examined in "Every Day is a Miracle", which notes how most animals don't have the same concept of sentimental and communal value as humans by describing how a cockroach could eat The Mona Lisa without a second thought and how The Pope has no meaning to a domestic dog. At the same time, the song examines how animals hold their own sense of value that isn't fully understandable by humans, describing a hen as envisioning heaven as being full of roosters to mate with and corn to eat, complete with God as "a very old rooster" and Jesus as a bundle of eggs.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: On LP copies, side A features a black-on-white label and side B features a white-on-black label.
- Concert Film: The album's tour received one in 2020, titled after the album, courtesy of Spike Lee.
- Cover Version: Not on the album itself, but in live performances done in support of it, which all close off with a cover of "Hell You Talmbout" by Janelle Monáe, a song that examines Police Brutality and general racial injustice in America and namedrops its black victims. Byrne went on record stating that it best exemplified the state of the world in 2018, and as such felt like an appropriate closing piece for live shows. Byrne's performance of the song is also the centerpiece of the trailer for the American Utopia Concert Film (in which it is actually the penultimate track, with the closer there being "Road to Nowhere").
- Design Student's Orgasm: The front cover, back cover, and liner notes feature a number of elaborately abstract murals by outsider artist Purvis Young.
- Disappeared Dad: "An invisible dad" is mentioned in "I Dance Like This".
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Bullet" is a song about a bullet. Likewise, three guesses as to what the subject of "Everybody's Coming to My House" is.
- Face on the Cover: Averted; alongside Uh-Oh, this is one of the only two non-soundtrack solo albums in Byrne's discography to lack his likeness anywhere on the outer packaging.
- Fading into the Next Song: The outro of "Everybody's Coming to My House" fades seamlessly into the intro of "Here".
- Immigrant Patriotism: Played with; the essay in the interior gatefold, written by Byrne (a Scottish immigrant), examines not what America currently is, but rather what it can be, thus acting patriotic for the United States in the sense of wanting it to improve and approach an ideal that can benefit all of its residents rather than just some of them (as opposed to the nationalistic form of patriotism that more thoroughly defines the concept in the eyes of the general public).
- Journey to the Center of the Mind: "Here" describes the narrator encouraging the listener to reach out and explore all the different regions of a brain, understanding the complexities of the human mind and weaving a more concrete map of it in doing so. In live performances, Byrne even whips out a model brain and points out each region mentioned in the lyrics. They're even anatomically accurate: Byrne for instance points to the temporal lobe when describing where "the sound gets organized into things that make some sense," the occipital lobe when describing where "there is something we call elucidation," and the corpus callosum when describing "a connection with the opposite side [hemisphere]."
- Lighter and Softer: The album is far more overtly optimistic than any of his previous records, both solo and collaborative, tying in with the positivity-spreading mission of the "Reasons to be Cheerful" project.
- List Song: The lyrics to "Here" consist mainly of Byrne listing off various regions of the brain based on their functions; live performances accentuate this by having him use a life-size brain model as a visual aid.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Bullet" contrasts lyrics about being fatally shot with a melody and instrumentation that sounds fairly cheery and bouncy.
- Mundane Made Awesome: "Everybody's Coming to My House" is probably the world's most energetic song about inviting people over to visit your house.
- Mythology Gag:
- The use of Purvis Young murals on the album's packaging and liner notes is nods back to Little Creatures, which featured artwork by another outsider artist, Howard Finster. Byrne goes on in the text part of the liner notes to describe his fascination with outsider art and how unique it is compared to more mainstream examples of fine art.
- Live performances for the album take visible inspiration from the 1983 Speaking in Tongues tour (and, by extension, the 1984 Concert Film Stop Making Sense), featuring minimalist staging and all the performers in gray suits. The 2020 concert film for the tour is in turn a Spiritual Successor to Stop Making Sense, featuring the same minimalist, immersive cinematography style and lack of interviews or backstage segments (at least not until the end of the movie).
- New Sound Album: Late 2010s electropop mixed with Byrne's Signature Style of leftfield World Music-infused art pop, harking back to the Afrobeat style of Remain in Light and Naked while being significantly Lighter and Softer than both of those albums.
- No Ending: "Dog's Mind" and "Bullet" don't have much in the way of proper outros, instead abruptly fading out once Byrne runs out of lyrics.
- One-Word Title: "Bullet", "Here".
- The Pollyanna: This trope is at the heart of this album and the wider "Reasons to be Cheerful" project, focusing heavily on the perseverance of optimism in the face of bleakness.
- Precision F-Strike: Two in "Every Day is a Miracle", in which Byrne mentions how "The Pope don't mean shit to a dog" and describes himself as having "the dick of a donkey" (among other animal-like attributes). True to Byrne's desire to limit the amount of swearing in his material to keep it impactful, he doesn't use profanity anywhere else on the album.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The lyrics of "Doing the Right Thing" gain extra pertinence upon remembering that Byrne is autistic, with the condition being known to cause difficulties in forming romantic relationships due to the ins and outs of it not being as intuitive as they would be to neurotypical partners (indeed, Byrne had been in and out of a number of romantic relationships over the years).
- Rearrange the Song: Live performances of "Bullet" arrange the song as a droning dirge, removing the Lyrical Dissonance of the studio version.
- Shout-Out: "Every Day is a Miracle" mentions The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
- Siamese Twin Songs: The abrupt ending of "Dog's Mind" results in it acting as a direct prelude to "This is That" immediately after it in the context of the album.
- Silly Love Songs: "Doing the Right Thing" describes the narrator in a romantic relationship, describing how even though he isn't quite sure how things are supposed to go in one, he knows he's doing it all right because he and his girlfriend are happy together.
- Song Style Shift: "Everybody's Coming to My House" opens with a wailing sax intro evocative of Baroque Pop, only to shortly after shift over to the same beat-heavy electropop as the rest of the album.
- Special Guest: The album features a bevy of guest collaborators, including members of the UK electronic scene, playing multiple instruments across multiple songs. Among them are the following:
- Prolific record producer Doveman performs Mellotron and keyboard parts.
- XL Recordings collaborator XXXChange provides drum and choir programming, synth stabs, cymbals, and shaker parts.
- DJ and producer Jam City provides synth stabs, guitar, and drums on "Every Day Is a Miracle".
- Welsh electronic musician Koreless plays drums on "Every Day Is a Miracle".
- Oneohtrix Point Never provides keyboards, drums, synthesizers, bass, strings, and other embellishments.
- Jack Peñate plays keyboards, drums, bass, and shaker, provides texture effects to "Gasoline and Dirty Sheets", and sings backing vocals on "Gasoline and Dirty Sheets" and "Bullet".
- Prolific producer and songwriter Ariel Rechtshaid plays flexatone on "It's Not Dark Up Here".
- Red Hot Chili Peppers touring percussionist and prior Byrne collaborator Mauro Refosco plays percussion.
- Sampha plays piano on "Everybody's Coming to My House".
- Joey Waronker of Radiohead side project Atoms for Peace plays tom and snare parts on "I Dance Like This".
- There Is No Kill like Overkill: Assuming that "Bullet" is about a single guy being shot multiple times, that would mean that he got blasted in the stomach, heart, and head, when just one of them would be enough to kill him.
- Utopia: The dream of one is the main theme behind the album, as indicated by the title.
- We Have Become Complacent: "Dog's Mind" details a story about a government collapse being ignored thanks to everyone being content enough with the stability of their everyday lives to not notice. In this case, however, it's not described as a harbringer of chaos in the same way as "(Nothing But) Flowers" 30 years prior, instead noting how the state of regular people's lives in the song's setting is so peaceful and stable that it's not actually impacted by the political system collapsing in on itself, comparing it to the indifference a well-cared-for dog would show towards human societal concerns.