INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Uncut APRIL 2006 - by Simon Reynolds
BRIAN ENO & DAVID BYRNE: MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS
On its original 1981 release, this album was widely dissed for being "cold-blooded," "detached", an eggheads-in-the-soundlab experimental exercise. Yet My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts drips with emotional intensity, it's just that the feelings don't come directly from the record's makers but from the found voices - Pentecostal preachers, Algerian Muslims - harvested by the duo from American radio and ethnic field recordings. In another sense, the whole project is framed by the conflicted emotions - uneasy fascination, admiring envy - that this material stirred in Byrne and Eno, at once attracted by the fervour of these true believers yet incapable (as progressive sorts trapped within modernity's rationality and temperance) of accessing that kind of passion themselves.
Chances are, you'll feel the same cold rush as Byrne and Eno the first time they heard the preacher who "stars" on The Jezebel Spirit. The electrifying conviction of his cadences as he exorcises the slutty she-devil that's possessed an unfaithful wife will make your hair stand on end, even as your liberalism recoils from the patriarchy he's restoring ("Jezebel, you have no rights to her, her husband is the head of the house"). Elsewhere, it's the mystical rather than moralising aspect of religion that enthralls Byrne and Eno: Regiment, for instance, entwines the ecstastic ululations of a Lebanese mountain singer with sinuous bass and arabesques of synth. Throughout My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, the duo lovingly recontextualise their sources, embedding the voices in a sticky web of psychedelic rhythm, funky ambience, and some of the most counter-intuitive and contortionist basslines you'll ever hear.
Tracks 1 to 5 (the original first side) are great, but 6 to 11 (side two) is a whole other plane, gliding you through a phantasmagoric sequence of steadily more untaggable and precedent-less groovescapes. Following Moonlight In Glory - falter-funk laced with the halting cadences of Scriptural chants and astral gospel plaints, as incanted by a literally isolated African-American sect from the Sea Islands off Georgia's coast - The Carrier shimmers like a portent or future-ghost of The Unforgettable Fire. But instead of Bono, thankfully that Lebanese dude reappears to kiss the heavens. A Secret Life is an itchy microcosm as gorgeously infolded as Can's Quantum Physics, while Come With Us pretzels bass-gloop and stereo-flickering sorcery into a disorientating audio-maze. Heading out into a non-specifically Oriental hinterland of gaseous gong sounds, Mountain Of Needles sounds like God sighing with satisfaction at the end of the sixth day. Byrne and Eno, the Creators of an equally marvelous if somewhat more compact universe of sound, ought to have felt pretty pleased with themselves too.
It's a pity that the immaculate construction that is My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts now has an extension tacked onto it: the inevitable slew of outtakes, most of them sketchy and substandard, diminishes the sense of conclusion achieved by Mountain Of Needles. A couple of the bonus tracks work as intriguing footnotes (the ungodly exhalations of Vocal Outtakes, the needling stellar twinkle of Solo Guitar With Tin Foil) but overall, the effect is a bit like the Almighty following up the Cosmos with an encore of... Croydon.