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Music / Grown Backwards

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"Something familiar, something far, far away."

Grown Backwards, released in 2004, is the sixth solo album and seventh studio album overall by Scottish-American musician David Byrne. A marked contrast from the Latin-infused Alternative Rock of his prior solo output, the album sees Byrne shift to an acoustic Baroque Pop sound, taking the orchestral art pop style of Look into the Eyeball and ramping up the "orchestral" part even further, growing more acoustic and deviating far from any trends in mainstream music at the time. As stated on his personal website, Byrne had only a passing interest in Classical Music and opera, but was curious enough to experiment with the style, eager to step out of his artistic comfort zone.

Upon release, the album didn't do much to restore Byrne's commercial fortunes; in fact, its No. 178 peak on the Billboard 200 was Byrne's lowest chart placement in his entire studio album discography. In the UK, it reached a more favorable No. 88 peak, though even this was lower than its predecessor. Despite this, it would continue to sell steadily over the years: according to Byrne's book How Music Works, the album eventually racked up sales figures of 140,000 units (including 127,000 physical copies) by 2010. While not enough to meet any RIAA certification, it was still enough of a Sleeper Hit to lead to an expanded double-LP release— its first issuing on vinyl— in 2019.


Grown Backwards was not supported by any singles. That said, a re-recording of the X-Press 2 collaboration "Lazy" (which was released as a single for the house duo's 2002 album Muzikizum) is featured as a bonus track.


  1. "Glass, Concrete & Stone" (4:13)
  2. "The Man Who Loved Beer"note  (2:41)
  3. "Au fond du Temple Saint"note  (4:49)
  4. "Empire" (4:12)
  5. "Tiny Apocalypse" (4:03)
  6. "She Only Sleeps" (2:57)
  7. "Dialog Box" (3:30)
  8. "The Other Side of This Life" (4:00)
  9. "Why" (2:54)
  10. "Pirates" (3:52)
  11. "Civilization" (3:17)
  12. "Astronaut" (2:55)
  13. "Glad" (1:58)
  14. "Un Dì, Felice, Eterea"note  (2:51)
  15. "Lazy" (9:35)


We will return your tropes to you:

  • Concept Album: Pitchfork describes the album as a journey through a man's mind from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and old age.
  • Cover Version: Three appear on the album: "The Man Who Loved Beer" by Lambchop, "Au fond du Temple Saint" from Georges Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, and "Un Dì, Felice, Eterea" from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata.
  • Credits Gag: The CD label includes a mock disclaimer stating that "unauthorized use as a coaster, ashtray or frisbee discouraged" before segueing into the standard Digital Piracy Is Evil legal blurb.
  • Dismotivation: The narrator of "Lazy" claims to be a Lazy Bum, but he gives a surprisingly long list of activities he does in a lazy way. He comes across instead like a guy who works really hard to convince everyone he's cool and lazy.
    I'm lazy when I'm loving.
    I'm lazy when I play.
    I'm lazy with my girlfriend, a thousand times a day.
    I'm lazy when I'm speakin'.
    I'm lazy when I walk.
    I'm lazy when I'm dancin'.
    I'm lazy when I talk.
  • Epic Rocking: "Lazy" clocks in at 9 and a half minutes, making it the longest song on any of Byrne's studio albums.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Lazy" is a song about being lazy.
  • Face on the Cover: A black and white headshot of Byrne against a white background, printed on reflective silver card stock on physical releases.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: "Au fond du Temple Saint" and "Un Dì, Felice, Eterea" are respectively performed in their original languages of French and Italian.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The kick drum during the synth break in "Lazy" alternates between channels on each beat.
  • Lazy Bum: The narrator of "Lazy" claims to be one.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title of Grown Backwards is taken from a quote in the Flannery O’Connor novel The Violent Bear it Away.
    "Bishop looked like the old man grown backwards to the lowest form of innocence, and Rayber observed that the boy strictly avoided looking him in the eye."
  • Longest Song Goes Last: "Lazy", the closing track on CD and digital copies, runs for far longer than any other song on the album.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Empire" is a bombastic, triumphant song about Byrne's negative opinions on The War on Terror, which the song portrays as a front for American imperialism.
    • "Glad" is a short and upbeat string ditty that belies its lyrics about various everyday misfortunes.
    • "Lazy" is a song about, well, read the title. The music meanwhile is highly energetic, with frantic strings, electronic percussion, and tight, driving electric guitar.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Glad" just barely falls short of the two-minute mark.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Played with in "She Only Sleeps". The narrator's girlfriend dances at topless bars, flirts with others, and for all the world seems to be sleeping around. But the narrator knows "that she only sleeps with me," so he doesn't care what anyone else thinks of her.
  • Mythology Gag: The line "the moon is rising like a discotheque" in "Glass, Concrete & Stone" nods back to the line "it's not the ending of the world, it's only the closing of a discotheque" in "A Long Time Ago". Both songs also start with a prominent percussion riff, open their parent albums, and are among the most stripped-back tracks on said albums.
  • New Sound Album: Look into the Eyeball already leaned heavily into orchestral Baroque Pop, but Grown Backwards takes things a step further, stripping away most of the electronics and leaving a mostly acoustic album punctuated by strings and horns.
  • One-Word Title: "Empire", "Why", "Pirates", "Civilization", "Astronaut", "Glad", "Lazy". On the double-LP release, there's also "Ausencia" and "Dreamworld".
  • Opera: "Au fond du Temple Saint" and "Un Dì, Felice, Eterea" flirt with the style, being cover versions of songs from The Pearl Fishers and La Traviata, respectively.
  • The Pollyanna: The narrator of "Glad" mentions how he manages to stay happy even in the face of various daily misfortunes.
  • Protest Song: "Empire" is a tract against American imperialism and The War on Terror, with its message relayed through ironic invocations of Social Darwinism, Manifest Destiny, and pleas for national defense.
  • Rearrange the Song: "Lazy" was originally a collaboration between Byrne and House Music duo X-Press 2. Whereas the original was more in the latter's deep house style, this time around it's fitted to the Baroque Pop approach of this album.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "The Man Who Loved Beer" is adapted from "Dispute between a man and his Ba", a series of poems from ancient Egypt, basing its lyrics off a modified English translation of the original text.
    • "Tiny Apocalypse" mentions "a Jackie Chan spear."
  • The Social Darwinist: The key philosophy of the narrator in "Empire", who proudly proclaims how "the weak among us perish, the strong alone survive."
  • Special Guest: Baroque Pop alum Rufus Wainwright duets with Byrne on "Au fond du Temple Saint".
  • Textless Album Cover: The album puts the title on a removable shrinkwrap sticker, with the main printwork being textless on both the front slipcase and the front of the liner notes.
  • Villain Protagonist: The narrator of "Empire", an avowed Social Darwinist eager to uphold the values of western imperialism.
  • Wicked Wasps: "Astronaut" describes the narrator sticking his hand in a hornet's nest— to predictable results— before likening the wider world to one in its harshness.
  • Wrong-Name Outburst: The narrator of "Glad" mentions how "I'm glad when I get my girlfriends' names confused."
  • The X of Y: "The Other Side of This Life".