In a bustling season for duets albums, Barry Manilow’s is different. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga topped the charts with their collaborative LP Cheek to Cheek, and Barbra Streisand went No. 1 with her duets album Partners. But while Babs’s latest features a ghostly guest appearance from the late Elvis Presley, her erstwhile duet partner Barry Manilow has done her one better and released an album entirely of duets with dead people. Naturally, David Byrne has reviewed it in an essay for The Talkhouse.
The Talking Heads leader’s piece starts with the idea that procreation in the future will occur without copulation and ends with Byrne musing whether he could someday make an album with the yet-unborn. In between, he holds forth on Manilow’s My Dream Duets, writing that in a way the album “is profound, bluntly confronting us with this cognitive dissonance. He never conceals the fact that he’s duetting with his favorite dead singers, free of the risks involved in getting their permission, let alone in actually collaborating. But once the digital patchwork is complete, he and his partners sound unanimously chummy and affirmative and defect-free. It’s creepy, but only in your head. If you just listen, the illusion is totally believable.”
In July, Byrne posted on his website an extensive Brian Eno letter about the Gaza conflict. In February, he covered Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” to raise awareness that U.S. radio stations don’t pay performance royalties to recording artists, just songwriting royalties. Byrne has also written lengthy op-eds criticizing the music industry’s streaming business model and the growth of inequality in New York City.