CD Review of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today by David Byrne & Brian Eno
Recommended if you like
Talking Heads, XTC, Paul Simon
Label
Todo Mundo/Opal
David Byrne & Brian Eno:
Everything That Happens
Will Happen Today

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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A
s the man behind the boards for a stellar run of Talking Heads albums that started with 1978’s More Songs about Buildings and Food and concluded with 1980’s classic Remain in Light, Brian Eno has produced some of the most enduring work of David Byrne’s career – and the last time the duo teamed up for a collaborative effort, the result was 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, an album so seminal that, in some circles, following it up would be akin to trying to assemble a sequel to the New Testament.

Yet follow it up they have. It took 28 years and the latest technology to make it happen – and it’s only a distant cousin to Bush of Ghosts – but Byrne and Eno are together again, and the result, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, is bound to be a shoo-in for this year’s short list of Sprightliest Albums from Greybeard Pop Stars.

It bears repeating that Everything That Happens isn’t a direct successor to Bush of Ghosts in any way, shape, or form; listeners who go into it expecting Byrne and Eno to reinvent the wheel all over again are going to come away sorely disappointed, or at least severely underwhelmed. No, this is just a collection of what Byrne has referred to as “proper songs” – 11 tracks ranging between two and a half and six and a half minutes in length, all of them hewing relatively closely to the old verse-chorus-verse framework. Some will view it as a copout, but that’s just the misery of unreasonable expectations talking; they might have a sugary pop fizz, but Byrne and Eno have never hesitated to take left turns where they’re warranted, and the same is true here.

This time out, Eno handled the music – the album was sparked by a dinner conversation during which he confessed to having piles of instrumental tracks lying around with nowhere to go – and Byrne handled the lyrics and lead vocals. This clean division of labor carried over to the recording process, with Eno and Byrne recording their parts in separate home studios and sending each other the files as they went along. The result is as clean-sounding as you’d expect, which is basically the root of the album’s one major problem.

According to Eno, Everything That Happens is “something like electronic gospel,” by which he means the songs reach back to his initial fascination with gospel music through a 21st-century digital spectrum. That’s the idea, anyway. In practice, however, the songs tend to stray into the same clinically chilly territory that’s claimed many of Byrne’s solo albums. He’s never projected a great deal of warmth as a singer, but when he’s working with musicians who can generate their own heat, that can actually work to his advantage; here, however, the sessions’ piecemeal nature keeps things cool to a fault.

This isn’t enough to keep it from being an enjoyable album – not even close, really – just enough to keep it from being great. It’s got enough of everything Byrne and Eno are known for to keep pretty much everyone happy – you’ve got the poppier stuff, such as opening track “Home” and the instantly memorable “Life Is Long,” and you’ve got more avant garde moments, such as the skittering, shifty “I Feel My Stuff” (which features a cameo from Phil Manzanera on “drone guitar”). None of it is the least bit groundbreaking, but that fits nicely with the reflective, almost elegiac tone of Byrne’s lyrics – as the album opens, he’s looking at “an old photograph” of “when the world was just beginning,” halfway through the record, he’s remembering “sweet times,” and as it ends, he’s standing alone in a lighthouse, reminiscing about his past. It’s all very pleasant, in the best sense of the word, and bathed in a sweetly uplifting, nostalgic glow that few would have expected from the guy who was barking “Burning Down the House” 25 years ago.

In the end, Everything That Happens might not be a classic effort from either of its principals, but it’s still well worth a listen for fans of Byrne or Eno, not to mention anyone who sees something beautiful in two old friends reaching across an ocean for no reason other than the simple joy of making music together. “Proper songs” – yes, that sounds about right.

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