INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Los Angeles Times MAY 22, 1981 - by Mikal Gilmore
AVANT-FUNK STEPS OUT
Talking Heads' Remain In Light was one of the most venturous new-wave experiments of 1980 - a fusion of American funk forms and African rhythm modes that seemed as rousing and instinctive as Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, yet as methodical and modern as Steve Reich's cyclic sonatas. Now, with My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Talking Heads leader David Byrne and producer Brian Eno take their avant-funk obsessions one step further into an area that might roughly be called ethno-abstractionism. In place of the impelling crossweaves of melody and rhythm that permeated Remain In Light, Byrne and Eno have fashioned kinetic collages out of disconnected guitar, percussion and synthesizer fragments, and even have fabricated vocal parts from snippets of songs, sermons and dialogue lifted from radio and other sources.
(One of these unique vocal transpositions doesn't appear on the album - a recording of the late evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman holding forth on supernaturalism and death. Byrne and Eno inserted portions of her sermon in a fairly fleshly secular-style setting, and the Kuhlman estate denied permission to use the vocal track. In replacing her voice with exhortations of a shaman exorcist, Byrne and Eno lost the album's eeriest, most transfixing track.)
My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (the title is taken from a book by Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola) works best when the dislocated vocals and scrappy backing tracks complement or embellish one another, as they do in Regiment and The Carrier, where the plaintive, delicate intonations of Lebanese mountain singer Dunya Yusin have been superimposed over a thick-and-steady fatback beat and a rackety industrial rhythm. An even better example is Help Me Somebody, in which Byrne and Eno take excerpts from a Southern preacher's declamation and meticulously interknit them with Stax/Volt-like guitars and West African-style talking drums, spacing and staggering the exchange so it takes on the gritty call-and-response fervor of a gospel or soul performance.
Yet, for each illuminating experiment there are others - America Is Waiting, Qu'ran, Moonlight In Glory and Come With Us - that reduce the collage concept to a mere exercise in gimmickry. Granted, The Bush Of Ghosts is mesmeric and commendable, but only rarely does it manage to overcome its own self-pleasing air of conceptualism and take the leap of faith into communion and carnality that made Remain In Light such provocative and unfettered fun. The difference between the two records comes down to something like the difference between the idea and epiphany - and in the end, that's some difference.