Magnificent orchestral numbers are not to be associated with the man who once sang of wanting to burn down the house, but David Byrne is a jack of all trades. He is the type of character to bust a move, fire out Road to Nowhere in all of its fascinatingly nonsensical forms, and subsequently bridge his way into the works of charming and sophisticated compendiums of grand music. The Forest is not just a surprise because of its quality, but because of its lack of fanfare. Byrne is born under punches, but, strangely, his 1991 effort is not as quick to be played or purchased as some of his finer works.
There are plenty of reasons it would not appeal to the Talking Heads addict, primarily due to The Forest opening with a 13-minute rendition with barely a word of recognisable quality. It is the movement of music that Byrne relies on here, and how it can be changed with pace or style to provide a different emotive backdrop. There is no in-your-face, “got you” style moment, nor are there any spicy designs or intensively grand bits of wordplay, but that is the beauty of The Forest. It shows that Byrne as an artist cannot just grow out of that and into something different, but provides him with the opportunity to engage with a new form of music. He did so with Talking Heads often, and it is no surprise that the spiritual new age production on offer here is just as unique as his work on Speaking in Tongues or American Utopia decades later.
What can be overtly and frequently criticised is the lack of structure between tracks. The operatics are a stunning, passing opportunity for Byrne to play with a new style. That much is intense and exciting, but the lack of structure between the tracks and interconnectivity is lacking. A shame, since it would bring the album together with some sense of story. A rise and fall that listeners can tune in and out of are easily grasped when notes string together. No such luck for The Forest. Perhaps that is a little too much to ask of Byrne, whose focus on making tracks like Kish and Ur so independent of one another works nicely when taken one at a time. Together, they are a mismatch. It is one of the few albums out there that requires no structure. Barely any lyrics are contained within, but Byrne hopes to instil an emotive reaction through his lengthy ten tracks.
That he does, but not as well as he should. Bridging the gap between the orchestral and the consistent is a tall order. Byrne is not dragged down by ambition but the ill-suited desire to bring out a concept album without much of a concept to back him. The longer the song, the better it sounds. More developed, controlled and thought out. It is the shorter intervals that are shaky ground for the Talking Heads frontman, but there is more than enough quality on The Forest to offer some interesting pockets of a consistent innovator.