By Jeff Roesgen
You knew they had it in them; a great pop album, that is. But it doesn’t end there; Byrne and Eno’sEverything that Happens Will Happen Today culls disparate sounds and concepts from both men’s nearly 40-year careers and builds them into a pop framework. There are the electronic rushes and complex beat structures from Eno’s Another Green World phase, as well as his now-trademark ambient stirs and echoes. There are even sweet, desolate guitar fills that evoke Roxy Music. Rhythmically, there are charges of polyrhythm that you might have heard on Talking Heads records, Speaking in Tongues andLittle Creatures, and on Byrne’s 2001 solo offering, Look into the Eyeball. Even the lyrics, exclusively written by Byrne, conjure themes of some of his best-known works. In fact, interestingly absent from the sounds and words that compose this album is any semblance of the men’s last collaboration, 1981’sMy Life in the Bush of Ghosts. More interesting still, and the chief triumph of Everything that Happens, is that it sounds like something you’ve heard before while also sounding fresh and engaging.
Byrne describes this album as “electronic gospel” and defines its tracks as “proper songs.” ButEverything that Happens is more than that. These songs, born amid pop music’s thematic infatuation with war, society, government, and culture, take us to an even more fraught, confounding, and comfortable place: home. Transporting us there is the album’s artwork, an enchanting, fragile depiction of a virtual home, as well as its first track, “Home.” Here, with a hint of warble in his voice, Byrne sings the defining statement, “Home will infect everything you do.” Eno’s music evokes this notion in equal measure with subtle, familiar soundscapes that touch gently on electronica, country, soul, and ambient.
When Byrne’s words and songcraft and Eno’s music are melded (this collaboration proceeded with transatlantic track swaps), we’re offered a blend of sounds that range from discernible to intricate, humble to triumphant. The brash, molesting, electro-buzz and churning beats of the irresistible sing-along “Wanted for Life” mingles with ham-fisted, major-chord guitar strumming. “My Big Nurse” opts for an even simpler approach, with its sparse country arrangement and slow-yearning vocal hook. “Life is Long” and “One Fine Day” feature huge, gospel choruses. Other songs — “Home,” the Hail to the Thief-esque “I Feel My Stuff,” and the album’s closers, “Poor Boy” and “Lighthouse” — possess sounds and structures so nuanced that they’re best suited for headphones.
It’s the album’s title track, however, that illuminates this album’s aesthetic and reveals why collaborations between David Byrne and Brian Eno have been so anticipated and celebrated by music fans and critics. “Everything that Happens Will Happen Today” is a lullaby (akin to Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Engine”) that uses twinkling piano and the whir of synthesizers and water guitars to create two layers; a high and low, inviting us into an intermediate level of consciousness. Byrne’s voice is pastoral and gentle, “From the milk of human kindness/ From the breast we all partake/ Hungry for a social contract/ She welcomes you with dark embrace.”
As with their haunting, Kuti-inspired sound collage My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Everything that Happens Will Happen Today is the product of one of the better collaborations that modern music has known. While the former presented a thoroughly novel concept and the latter assembles an array of established ones, both match the vitality of each man’s best independent work. All told, Everything that Happens Will Happen Today is an acknowledgment of two men who have as great an understanding of the power of sound and words as they do of each other.