Spectrum Culture DECEMBER 10, 2008 - by David Harris


A legacy is a hard thing to live up to. For David Byrne and Brian Eno, a large part of their legacy is tied to 1981's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts; a collaborative effort and landmark album that employed samples and random voices in place of traditional singing, it remains one of music's most influential albums and, for better or worse, has spawned a thousand cheap imitations and two-bit knockoffs.

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today marks the first collaborative album between Byrne and Eno in nearly thirty years. Described by Eno as "electronic gospel" and by Byrne as "more emotional than technical" in the liner notes, this release has little in common with My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, both in terms of how it was created and how it sounds. Whereas My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts was born out of close collaboration between the two musicians around the same time as the making of the Talking Heads' album Remain In Light, this latest offering was essentially a long-distance affair, with Byrne providing lyrics and vocals to tracks Eno had previously recorded. The songs were eventually kicked back and forth and beaten into shape with session players and outside musicians.

This sort of impersonal collaboration inherently runs the risk of resulting in a disjointed album, but for the most part this isn't the case with Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. With a few exceptions, it sounds like a single coherent effort, instead of something strung together from two separate parts. Byrne's lyrics and vocals fit Eno's tracks, which (at least by his unique standards) are straightforward and display little of the musician's more ambient or obtuse tendencies. The instrumentation is mostly understated and uncluttered, with an emphasis placed on simple, restrained melodies.

The first two songs, Home and My Big Nurse, are both built around an acoustic guitar, while the melody and rhythm of Everything That Happens, Life Is Long and closer The Lighthouse are at least partly set by pianos and keyboards. There are still plenty of electronic pops and clicks - this is Brian Eno we're talking about - but these are mixed nicely with the actual instrumentation. And though Byrne won't ever be mistaken for a smooth crooner, his singing on these songs, and throughout the album, is strong and direct; the twitchy vocal style most often associated with him are largely absent here.

The songs that stray from this approach are usually the least successful ones. Wanted For Life and Poor Boy are pretty frenetic and sound out of step with the other tracks. Both play out as some type of perverted mixture of 1980s synth music and modern hip-hop; the distorted and smothered vocals on Poor Boy in particular kill the song before it really even gets started.

Snarky fans out there could argue that Byrne's lyrics don't' really stray outside his comfort zone - more songs about buildings and food indeed - but there is a certain degree of Pleasant Valley Sunday nostalgia and optimism that is somewhat unique to the Byrne songbook. Byrne acknowledges as much in the liner notes, commenting on the album's "sanguine and heartening tone." In songs like Home, My Big Nurse, One Fine Day, and The River, Byrne uses images that evoke a definite sense of contentment. Though Byrne's penchant for social commentary and dark humor occasionally creeps in with some references to war, his neighbour's exploding car, and the litany of criminal activity in Wanted For Life, the album is predominantly hopeful.

Aside from a few murky songs that primarily serve to indulge Eno's need for sonic experimentation, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is an enjoyable album that reveals a bit more with each listen. It doesn't try to be a redux of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Sometimes, it's enough to acknowledge a legacy without the burden of trying to top it.