INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Quietus AUGUST 11, 2008 - by John Doran
DAVID BYRNE & BRIAN ENO: EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS WILL HAPPEN TODAY
It's twenty-seven years since studio wunderkind (but self-professed non-musician) Brian Eno and jittery post punk seer David Byrne collaborated on the still breath-taking My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. It was an analogue-posturing-as-digital stew of musique concrete, emergent sampler technology, fourth world funk and an industrial-strength brew of what Eno had called the three most important beats of the previous decade: the Neu! motorik, the Fela Kuti afro-beat and the Clyde Stubblefield funky drummer. Most importantly, it was the sound of (relatively) young men looking fearlessly and unblinkingly forward to now. It was a prediction of the Babel caused by a thousand genres of music colliding; unlimited access and untrammelled exposure. The sampler was the ultimate in double-edged swords - it brought with it limitless possibilities, but also the solid knowledge that now music, for the first time, had clearly definable horizons. The album which would inform everyone from Public Enemy to Dub Syndicate to Burial to Aphex Twin celebrated the widest (and longest in terms of age) possible musical reservoir bursting its banks - while simultaneously predicting an inevitable musical inertia on the horizon.
Conversely, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is in some ways a cry from our contemporary age of musical saturation back towards a perceived time of simplicity: The Pre-Electronic Past. Once we had two psychotic, ethnographical cartographers with magpie tendencies allowing the cacophony of world religion and culture to envelop them. The original copies of Bush Of Ghosts earned the pair a fatwa because the song Qu'ran was based round a sample of the Muslim call to prayer. The track has still not been restored to the album. They refused to give weight to an exorcist over a priest, to an imam over a talk show host, to Egyptian pop over Lebanese folk singers (themselves Islamic). Now we have, ostensibly, two men approaching old age making and singing gospel music. Canute-like, they order back the waves of contradictory noise, just wishing for the sweet ebb and flow of church music to salve the soul and cleanse the ears.
So is this a tired bus pass holder's slump? Is it fuck. This is Eno and Byrne we're talking about not... Travis. This is, according to its creators... "electronic gospel"! To be fair, though it's tempting to compare this to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, perhaps we shouldn't. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today came about as a bit of a wheeze after a dinner party (one hundred years ago gents of this ilk would have retired to the veranda to smoke a cigar and discuss the great game in Afghanistan, now they're arranging concept albums). Eno had some music with which he'd reached a lyrical impasse and Byrne said he had just the thing in mind. So MP3s and tapes zipped backwards and forwards as if between the avant-garde Reg Dwight and Bernie Taupin, the pair quickly demarcating the jobs thus: music - Eno, vocals - Byrne. Sure, these may well be "proper songs" (as the former Talking Heads mainstay described them to the BBC last year), but rub away at the glittery sheen in places and you're dealing with an unmistakable palimpsest.
Of course, Byrne is no stranger to twisting gospel into bizarre new shapes - one can trace this all the way back to Talking Heads' version of Take Me To The River - but this is perhaps his best use of the genre yet, especially on the ecstatic Home, with its nod to The Sound Of Silence. And despite the fact that a veritable cavalcade of dilettantes (from Keane to Blur), have tried to employ gospel for their own ends over the last decade, none have got away with it. Perhaps they need Eno's amniotic and opiated guitar lines (circa Another Green World) or Byrne's bittersweet observations delivered in silvered croon. Home is antipodal to Once In A Lifetime. The wish to escape from the suburban and mundane into a whirlpool of anarchic shared experience has been replaced by a desire to swim back upstream to the petty discomforts now sorely missed. Even when the pair adopt the pose of two old gadgers sitting on the back porch, singing sweetly and strumming slowly, there are lyrical barbs galore to unseat you: "When we fall in love with war, when the angel fucks the whore" Byrne sings during My Big Nurse, an unsettling and blank-eyed peer at the big sleep. Songs like The River and Life Is Long, if performed by Byrne alone, would probably be reminiscent of tracks from Little Creatures. This wouldn't be a problem for me by a long stretch, even though it's not what received wisdom teaches about Talking Heads. This is all by the by, however, as Eno obviously didn't waste too much of his magic dust on Coldplay, choosing instead to make this album effervesce and shimmer quietly in the background.
The blinkered and the unreasonable will hate this album, it has to be said. As will those with only a passing interest in either artist. As for the rest of us - well the future isn't what it used to be in 1981. Welcome instead to 2008, a much more pleasant - if slightly less exciting - place to be.