David Byrne was a young man playing at a mid-life crisis when he first sang "Once In A Lifetime" with Talking Heads, a song from 1980's Remain In Light—the band's third and final collaboration with Brian Eno. Byrne is genuinely middle-aged now, and on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first work with Eno in 27 years, it sounds as if the introspection of "Once In A Lifetime" stopped being an academic exercise a long time ago. "The dimming of the light makes the picture clearer," Byrne sings as the album opens, establishing a sunset glow that shines on much of the album to come.
What follows also sounds only a little like what listeners might expect of a renewed Eno/Byrne partnership. Their 1981 album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts pushed their interest in ambience, found sounds, and African music to a beautiful extreme. But here, the only shocks come from the way the album sticks to traditional structures and what Byrne calls a "folk-electronic-gospel feeling" that swaps gentle ruminations for sharp edges and challenging rhythms. It's a bit like Cheech and Chong reuniting to perform Molière.
Everything That Happens is an unexpected album, but a stirring one nonetheless. Though uptempo tracks like "I Feel My Stuff" sound a bit rusty around the hinges, Byrne and Eno find warmth and focus on tracks like "One Fine Day" (a song inspired by Dave Eggers' What Is The What?) and "Everything That Happens," which wrap the philosophizing in carefully layered instrumentation and soaring choruses that make the album feel like an alternate route to the same destination. They even manage a half-reprise of "Once In A Lifetime" with "The River," whose lyrics find Byrne beginning as a singer in a restaurant, getting carried away by rising waters, then getting reborn on the same stage. Same as it ever was.
A.V. Club Rating: B+