"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Times AUGUST 15, 2008 - by John Mulvey
DAVID BYRNE & BRIAN ENO: EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS WILL HAPPEN TODAY
Brian Eno and David Byrne try to make sense of a world that's moving far too quickly.
At the turn of the 1980s, David Byrne and Brian Eno ruled New York's Downtown scene like an avant-garde Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee. While Eno was producing Byrne's group Talking Heads, one of Byrne's band-mates claimed that the two men had become so close that they were dressing identically.
"They're like two fourteen-year-old boys making an impression on each other," she noted disparagingly. Daft as it may have looked, though, the two men's intensive relationship was cementing their position as pop's foremost eggheads. Eno had helped to form Roxy Music, more or less invented ambient music on his solo records, and worked on some of David Bowie's best work.
Byrne, meanwhile, had steered Talking Heads out of punk and to an elevated place where funk and African rhythms could blend with their uptight idea of pop. Together, they would make an extraordinary patchwork of an album called My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, which kick-started the whole sampling craze.
Twenty-seven years later, Byrne and Eno no longer follow each other round quite so obsessively. Indeed, this serene reunion album is one of those tremendously modern collaborations, on which the songs seem to have evolved out of a protracted, transatlantic process. Eno handed over a bunch of musical settings to Byrne, who battered them into the shape of songs. Fashionably, the resulting album is being issued online, before the lure of old technology necessitates a CD release in October.
It is not, let's be clear, much like Bush Of Ghosts. Where that album sampled evangelical preachers to make smart points about the extremes of faith, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today takes inspiration from gospel music. Eno's machinery burbles away busily in the background while Byrne writes genteel little hymns about ageing and fate.
The result is a very pretty pop album, with some of the catchiest songs Byrne has come up with in years: the mildly anthemic One Fine Day could almost pass as the work of one of Eno's recent production clients, Coldplay. Perhaps Eno's much-vaunted taste for experimentation occurs in the process of making music rather than being evident in the finished product these days - Viva La Vida and all those U2 albums he produced are hardly obtuse, after all. Last week in The Times, he claimed that I Feel My Stuff, with its diffident jazz piano and moody beats, is "unlike any other song I've ever heard before", which amazingly suggests that Eno, a legendarily omnivorous culture vulture, has not heard the past few Radiohead albums.
But maybe it's foolish to expect Byrne and Eno to reinvent popular music a second time. Better to see Everything That Happens for what it really is: two old friends trying to make sense of a world that is moving too quickly even for committed technophiles like themselves. Their conclusion? "Live fast, die happy," advises Byrne, on Poor Boy, "Don't let your panties show."