David Byrne & Brian Eno – ‘Everything that Happens Will Happen Today’

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, February 3, 2009.

David Byrne & Brian Eno
Everything that Happens Will Happen Today

It’s difficult to know how to approach Everything that Happens Will Happen Today. This collection of skewed, swirling pop songs arrives with a boot load of historical, musical and wider cultural baggage. Collaborations between David Byrne and Brian Eno – whether the trio of iconoclastic Eno-produced Talking Heads records or the intensely chaotic, multi-accented experimental tropes of the pair’s 1981 opus My Life in the Bush of Ghosts – have resulted in some of the greatest and most influential albums of the last three or so decades.

Everything that Happens…
doesn’t fall into such a category  – on first listen, at least. From the spacious acoustic strums, aquatic, electro-nuanced beats and chorus chorale of opener ‘Home’, this collection seems to appropriate the duo’s expansive sonic leanings into little more than elegantly phrased, interestingly textured folk-pop. There’s nothing jarring, nothing overtly experimental. Even the more challenging moments, like lurking angularities of ‘I Feel My Stuff’, have an easily palatable quality. The dirgy electronics of songs like ‘Wanted for Life’ open out into flourishing chorus melodies.

But closer listening yields intriguing results. In the liner notes, Byrne defines the record in terms of “gospel-folk-electronic”, and it’s not far from the truth. There’s a concealed set of polarities at work here. Eno’s major chords and concise melodic phrasing, and Byrne’s whooping, ever-wonky tenor, are a mere starting point. It’s the details – the counter-accents, inflections and underlays, not to mention Byrne’s wondrously human lyrical craft – that extend this pop vernacular into such a sophisticated, joyous realm.

Much of Everything that Happens… is about hope. On more than a few occasions – the lilting ‘My Big Nurse’ and backlit ambience of the title-track, for example – Byrne offsets sinister imagery with optimism and potentiality. “Tigers walk behind me, they are to remind me / I’m lost but I’m not afraid,” he sings amongst the jangling arrangement of ‘Life is Long’. “Chain me down but I am still free.”

The set is filled with highlights, from the layered harmonies of ‘One Fine Day’ to abstracto-funk of ‘Poor Boy’. But it’s the wondrous, breezy groove of ‘Strange Overtones’ that is the record’s unlikely centrepiece, with Byrne blending a concoction of playful surrealisms and self-critiques atop Eno’s supple, shuffling pop brilliance. “This groove is out of fashion,” he quips, “these beats are 20 years old.” Pop music hasn’t sounded this good since Talking Heads.

This record may not have the same conceptual or sonic impact that their work together in late 70s and 80s did, but what it will show is that David Byrne and Brian Eno haven’t lost any of their magnificent touch. Everything that Happens… is the sound of two visionaries (and their swathes of experimental tendencies) aging gracefully. It’s a great way to start a new year.

Dan Rule


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