Thursday, May 30, 2013
The musical reunion between David Byrne and Brian Eno comes with a fair amount of baggage. After all, they produced some of the greatest records in rock history: the trio of Talking Heads records that Eno worked on, culminating in Remain in Light, and followed by the duo's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, where all manner of funky beats and freaky sampladelic rhythms were wedded to Pentecostal exorcisms and African ceremonial bush chants. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is a nearly 180-degree turn from the duo's collective musical past. These 11 songs are loopy pop tunes that wed Byrne's strange hearing of gospel and folk to Eno's continually evolving rhythmic and electronic palette -- they refer to it as "folk-electronic-gospel." Granted, Eno's compositional frameworks are all written in major keys, and Byrne's poetically funny, sophisticated lyrics express possibility and hope in the middle of cultural darkness, but while it's clear that the emotional component is shared between the two principals, this is far from "message" music. The set opens with "Home." Strummed acoustic guitars and drum loops textured by sonic wonkery introduce an elegantly simple melody where Byrne, at his full-throated best, sings: "The dimming of the light/Makes the picture clearer...I memorized a face so it's not forgotten...Come back anytime/And we'll mix our lives together/Heaven knows what keeps mankind alive/Every hand -- goes searching for its partner in crime." Brokenness and paradox are also addressed: "Home where my world is breaking in two/Home with the neighbors fighting/Home -- were my parents telling the truth?" Likewise, the title track -- with its warm, liquid guitars (à la Daniel Lanois), out-of-the-ether sonic architecture, and Byrne's lyric coming from both dream and reflection -- is slower and less jaunty, but poetically moving: "Oh my brother, I still wonder, are you all right/And among the living, we are giving/All through the night...." The backing choral voices give the track its "church" feel, but the message is more human and existential than divinely inspired. Another winner is "Life Is Long," which evokes remembrance as the continuation of the chain of human events. Its horn section touches on soul and rhythm & blues, but is blanched and diluted wonderfully. The only track that consciously attempts the rhythmic complexity of anything on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is "Poor Boy," which is cosmic science-fiction white-boy funk at its best. It's a warning against following the established order and rampant, empty materialism for their own sake -- its guitar riff comes straight outta the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar." Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is, despite the long odds, a truly inviting, musically adventurous, and mature musical statement. It reveals in spades how willing artists are capable of redefining themselves when they refuse to take themselves too seriously. This is unfettered joyful listening, and in its own small way, even profound.