Friday, January 16, 2009

David Byrne & Brian Eno -- Everything That's Happened Will Happen Today

David Byrne & Brian Eno -- Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (Todomundo/Opal)

I may be a bit biased in offering my viewpoint on this new album, as David Byrne is a good friend of mine. How long have I known him? Well, about as long as you have, probably. It’s been around 30 years, when I first got to know the Talking Heads. The relationship was more distant at first, but as time has gone on, and he’s gone from a band leader to a solo artist, the friendship has grown.

You see, I think that David cares about me. And he cares about you. Around the time of True Stories, it seemed that Byrne looked down on the common folk and was making fun of their oddities. Far from it. Byrne’s work shows quite the opposite -- he loves everyone and celebrates what makes each person unique.

It comes through in so much of his music. And perhaps never moreso than on this second collaboration with Brian Eno. It’s interesting that Byrne credits Eno’s music for drawing out this humanity. He described Eno’s instrumental tracks as “folk-electronic-gospel” and that these inspired the warmth that permeates his lyrics and vocals. I wouldn’t doubt this for a second, but I’d add that Eno’s music merely amplified a lot of Byrne’s pre-existing notions.

The music here is so basic, and deliberately so. Eno’s love of texture allows classic gospel/blues chords to sound fresh again. Acoustic guitars meet with modern keyboards and there is no clash whatsoever. It’s subtle and effective, as demonstrated on “My Big Nurse”. This languid number could have been written in the ‘20s and conjures up an image of Byrne in a hammock, gently swaying while strumming his guitar, while Eno, wearing a straw hat, accompanies him on the keys.

The song is also interesting in the context of the neo-gospel that both Eno and Byrne refer to in their separate liner essays. Byrne’s “big nurse” seems like a compromise between Eastern and Western religions. Byrne catalogs the good and bad that happens in the world, and finds comfort “from the science of the heart/to each animal and plant.” I find his comfort comforting.

The gospel feel is the most overt on the title cut. Over light guitars and keyboard accents, Byrne sings a simple melody as he contemplates mortality and mercy after seeing his “neighbor’s car explode.” Yes, that may read funny, but Byrne is achingly sincere. The music builds slowly, until the song hits a full chorus, invoking the title phrase. What is great about this song is how it uses some classic images (ex. -- “in the deepest silence/gold and diamonds/all through the night”) within words that are spiritual without being religious.

Taking a much different tack, Byrne and Eno travel to David Bowie/’70s disco sounds on the wonderful “Strange Overtones”. Some have speculated that Byrne’s lyrics are about Eno: “Your song still needs a chorus/I know you’ll figure it out/the rising of the verses/a change of key will let you out.” Perhaps, perhaps not, though the lines, “I see the music in your face/that your words cannot explain” may give it away. Regardless, this relaxed groove and the love that permeates this song make it irresistible.

Of course, many of the other songs here are hard to resist, whether it’s the Memphis soul horn fueled “Life Is Long” or the wobbly cod-reggae pop of “Wanted For Life”. Regardless of the music, the sensibility and compassion make this a very cohesive work. And friendship -- both the friendship between Byrne and Eno, and the artists with their fans.

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