By Joe Tangar
There's nothing like a nice surprise from musicians you love. In 1981, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and producer Brian Eno united for one of the most fruitful partnerships of the post-punk era to release My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a groundbreaking record that made prominent use of sampled soundbytes and disembodied voices in place of singing. The album, recorded between sessions for the Talking Heads' essential Remain in Light LP, was released with surprisingly little fanfare, yet pioneered and popularized methods that have since become part of our musical lexicon.
Last April, Byrne revealed that the partnership would be revisited for the first time in 27 years, for another full album. But while Everything That Happens Will Happen Today reunites this iconic duo, the record shares almost nothing in common with its predecessor — down to the process. Where My Life in the Bush of Ghosts resulted from hours of close collaboration, Everything That Happens occured when Eno asked Byrne to add lyrics and vocals to a number of tracks the producer had created independently. The two began passing tapes back and forth, and then onto a series of session players and studios until the record was complete. Described by the duo as "electronic gospel," the album is a beautifully melodic, unpretentious offering — and nothing whatsoever like its predecessor.
One of the first sounds here is an acoustic guitar — an early sign that this is a very different sort of album from those these two have made together in the past. The disc opens with one of its strongest songs, the expansive "Home", fitting the duo's description. Byrne sings long, drifting phrases to lyrics that temper domestic nostalgia with a bit of honesty. His outlook here is generally positive-- or maybe more accurately, tinged with hope or determination: "Chain me down but I am still free," he sings on the catchy chorus to the fluid "Life Is Long", as Eno's arrangement incorporates understated brass and a wall of keyboards that burst with melody.
Most of these tracks are strikingly immediate, considering the relaxed creative process that brought them to fruition. "Strange Overtones" has a great shuffling beat with a hooky bassline and a giant chorus — Byrne sings directly about the process of songwriting, mulling what a chorus should do even as he sings it. It's the kind of effortless pop song Talking Heads might be playing today if they'd stayed together. The album does have a few less satisfying moments, though, which tend to come when the easy flow of the music is disrupted. The buzzing synth hook and plodding beat of "Wanted for Life", for instance, feels somewhat out of place amid the billowing textures that surround them, and the echoey, spoken passages of "I Feel My Stuff" are plain awkward.
Still, it's a welcome release from this duo — the kind of assortment that makes one hope they don't stop here. Byrne will be touring this material without Eno, but hopefully, as Eno accumulates more tracks in the future, he'll remember the off-handed brilliance of this album's best moments and pick up the phone. Whether we're talking about this record in 30 years the same way we talk about My Life in the Bush of Ghosts today is of little consequence — it's an enjoyable listen in the here and now, which is all an album has to be, even when created by giants.