John Mark Eberhart
When Brian Eno and David Byrne collaborated 27 years ago, the result was downright eerie: an album of swirling voices, ominous chants, moans, cries and other odd utterances.
Byrne was the lead vocalist for Talking Heads that year of 1981 when “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”was released. Eno had produced the group, as well as producing instrumental and vocal solo albums. But “Ghosts” featured little or no real singing. Rather, Byrne and Eno created the voices for the disc by sampling various sources, from stuttering people to radio announcers to, in the case of the track “The Jezebel Spirit,” an exorcist.
All these voices were spliced into a music consisting of irresistible dance beats, fluttering guitars, rumbling basses and spectral keyboards. To this day, it remains one of my favorite pop-music albums, yet one I don’t listen to as much as I ought to. “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” is just too unsettling for frequent consumption.
That said, I wasted no time last fall buying the deluxe edition of “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,” Eno and Byrne’s long-awaited follow-up. Without having read much about the new album, I started playing it in the car on the way home from the store.
I was engulfed not by strangeness but by one of the most beautiful, soulful pop albums I’ve heard in years.
I’ve lived with the new album for a couple of months now and can say that “Everything That Happens” is about as different from “Bush of Ghosts” as any two records can be.
For one thing, Byrne sings these songs; gone are the “found” voices that made “Ghosts” so darned uncanny. I’ve always loved Byrne’s tenor voice and his rather precise (but not sterile) delivery, and he’s in great form here.
Better still, the songs on “Everything That Happens” are as lovely and fully realized as their creators hoped they would be. In the liner notes to the disc, the collaborators refer to the approach as “electronic gospel,” and it’s an accurate description of what’s going on.
Not that the songs are overtly religious; they aren’t. But the opening track, “Home,” conveys a yearning one hears only in the most spiritual of songs. “Heaven knows what keeps mankind alive,” Byrne sings.
“My Big Nurse” is a sturdier, darker track, complete with a line that can’t be quoted in a newspaper yet escapes being truly vulgar because the intent clearly involves an element of innocence. “Life Is Long” is a gorgeous song, with lyrics that affirm the basic values of living well and giving to others.
The creative process was that Eno gave to Byrne a selection of instrumental pieces he had been unable or unwilling, for one reason or another, to complete. Byrne took the pieces and wrote lyrics and vocal parts. I was dubious when I heard this but the end result is sublimely pretty and thoroughly compelling.
“Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” is a surprisingly gentle record — almost a photonegative, really, of “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.” It possesses its own identity, and it’s a striking addition to the collective body of work Eno and Byrne have produced.
More importantly, I just can’t seem to stop listening to it. And that’s the true test of music’s quality — when you want to hear it, then hear it again … and again.