I bought Uh-Oh a long time ago. I think while I was in middle school or very early high school. I didn’t think much of it at first. It was so weird. One of the things I loved about David Byrne was his weirdness, but this weird was different. It took a couple of listens before I warmed up to it, and eventually loved it as much as any of his other records.
Sonically, it’s a funny, funky, goofy kind of sound. There’s kazoos and whistles, and weird sound effects. That makes it sound obnoxious, but it isn’t. They’re used appropriately in context, I think. But the overall sound is very cheery and upbeat. It wasn’t until this past week while I was listening to it on the bus, not having listened to it for a while, I realized something I had missed all these years; how bitterly angry the album actually is.
Of course I had picked up on some of the darker, more cynical lines in some songs, but I never really thought about it with too much depth. While half asleep on the bus, listening to the album, it suddenly hit me. “Holy shit.”
I think for me, the emotional part of this album was overshadowed by David’s succeeding self-titled album, which is more obviously dark and emotive. davidenryb is a very raw, sad, angry, and frustrated album, both in lyrics and sound. I think it had eclipsed the emotional impact of Uh-Oh for me.
When I think about it, the anger, bitterness, and frustration in Uh-Oh makes a lot of sense. The album was released in 1992. David Byrne was going through a lot of personal shit in ‘92. This was just after Talking Heads had “officially” broken up in 1991. By officially, I mean David got sick of interviewers only question being “when is Talking Heads gonna tour again,” and David saying, “fuck off, we’re not.” Not smooth. In January of ‘92, his sister-in-law, Tina Chow, had died of AIDS. David and his daughter are still close to Tina’s daughter, China (though David is not technically her uncle anymore, after his and his wife’s divorce).
The cover of the album confused me for a while. But as I started to think about some of the lyrics on the record, its meaning came into a little more focus. David is not a religious person, specifically, though he has been fascinated by religion and religious experiences. In Uh-Oh though, it seems clear he’s frustrated with the bullshit that comes along with it. The cover of a choir of angels worshiping a derpy looking cartoon dog on a throne seems to say, “look at how fucking ridiculous you people look. It’s all bullshit!”
Some Meditation on Individual Songs