By Randy Lewis
Don't tell anyone, but David Byrne and Brian Eno have a new album.
OK, so it's not exactly a secret. But a key facet of their first extended collaboration in 27 years was their decision not to trumpet the arrival of "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today" in the usual way. There's no record company marketing campaign, no ads in trade magazines, on radio or MTV, in part because there's no record company.
"People are just kind of discovering it," Byrne, 56, said from Phoenix on Monday, following a concert the previous night in Albuquerque, part of his tour that reaches the Greek Theatre tonight. "We did it without any of the traditional stuff that a record company would do. We thought, 'Let's see what happens if you don't do that.' "
The music so far is available only through the Everything That Happens website that the Grammy-winning pop-music innovators set up for this project. It's available free for streaming, or it can be downloaded in three ways: digital only ($8.99, including a lyric booklet), digital plus a physical CD that will be shipped at the end of November ($11.99) or a deluxe version for $69.99 that includes four bonus tracks, a short film about the album, a hard-bound book, screen saver and other extras.
"It's an experiment," Byrne said. "But we've recouped our costs already, and that's nothing to sneeze at these days."
In the coming weeks, he said, the album will be turning up on iTunes, Amazon.com and other online retailers, but the no-strings-attached delivery method is in keeping with the music itself. It's a gorgeous, ethereal yet intrinsically human meeting of Byrne's voice, guitars and other acoustic instruments, and Eno's trademark electronic sounds. They describe the result as "folk-electronic gospel."
Byrne wrote many of the lyrics for a series of ambient soundscapes that Eno had created previously to convey a spiritual dimension, though one that's never far removed from the realities of life on Earth:
Tiny little boats on a beach
I took a drink from a jar
& into my head
Familiar smells and flavors
Vehicles are stuck on the
plains of heaven
That's a verse from the opening track, "Home." Like the rest of the album's songs, it long existed only as an instrumental, one of many Eno never got around to finishing. The subject of Eno's growing stockpile of incomplete songs came up during a conversation with Byrne, and rock 'n' roll gentleman that he is, the former Talking Head offered to take a stab at writing words for them. If Eno didn't like his lyrics, he could feel free to discard them, Byrne offered.
That, of course, didn't happen. "After listening, and living with them for a while" — nearly a year, in fact, "I sent him a note and said, 'This is the feeling I'm getting — what do you think?' " Byrne said. "And he seemed fine with it. The spiritual dimension wasn't there immediately, but it surfaced pretty quickly."
The songs brim with pop melodies, many of them crafted by Byrne but rooted in snippets of musical lines he found within Eno's extended tracks. The exception is the rhythmically quirky, lyrically disjunctive "I Feel My Stuff," a meditation on a world in disarray.
"If he started with a certain kind of thing," Byrne said, "I felt I should honor that, or pay attention to it and see if I could take it further." He used the same approach with the few lyric bits Eno had penned.
"In the song 'The River,' he had a lyric about a river, and that's as much as there was," Byrne said. "I also wrote about a river, and [Hurricane] Katrina, which is what I think the song is about."
Katrina is never mentioned by name, yet as elsewhere on "Everything That Happens," grim reality serves as the opportunity for renewal and rebirth.
It's making for an uplifting experience for the co-namesake of “David Byrne on Tour: Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno.” The show is built around about half a dozen of the new album's songs, along with numbers from the collaborators' 1981 album, "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," and some of the Talking Heads songs Eno produced.
"It's pretty elaborate," Byrne said. "I have three singers, keyboards and a rhythm section and three dancers." And a horn section for those fat, sweet trumpet and sax parts on the new album? "I wish I did."
Even with that note of apology, Byrne said, "In Albuquerque last night, this scientist came up to me after the show and asked, 'How in the world is anything this positive occurring at this point in the world?' "