BRIAN ENO: EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS WILL HAPPEN TODAY (w. David Byrne) (2008)
1) Home; 2) My Big Nurse; 3) I Feel My Stuff; 4) Everything That Happens; 5) Life Is Long; 6) The River; 7) Strange Overtones; 8) Wanted For Life; 9) One Fine Day; 10) Poor Boy; 11) The Lighthouse.
Everything that happens once in Eno's life eventually happens once again — you just have to be patient enough, sometimes for twenty-seven years, which is the timespan that separates this record from My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. However, this album sounds nothing like it. Maybe it would be improper to say that Eno and Byrne have mellowed out with age — but some of their sides definitely have, and it is these sides that are facing each other now. The Wandering Knight of Electronic Havoc and The Roving Shaman of Spastic Rock cast off their armor, pack up their rituals, and quietly settle down on the porch of the house that occupies the front sleeve. Not exactly a hobbit-like design, but a fairly hobbit-like atmosphere all the same.
Since all the songs here feature vocals and are quite Byrne-like in spirit, I was not altogether sure whether this should have been included in Brian Eno's section — but as it turns out, most of the music here actually belongs to Eno, who gave a bunch of his half-finished demos to David and urged him to add his own vocal melodies. Interestingly, Eno himself plays not just the keyboards here, but guitars, bass, electric drums, and even some brass parts, although this is not really a one-man (or two-man) affair: quite a few additional musicians were drafted to complete the proceedings, most importantly, Leo Abrahams on guitars and Seb Rochford on drums.
In other words, this is not a «poppified ambient» record; Eno specifically selected those of his demos that had a sharper pronounced rhythmic/dynamic flair to them, then proceeded to convert them to full-fledged song status — and made one of the finest decisions in his 21st century career to engage Byrne. Because one of the things that actually didn't work well with Another Day On Earth were the vocals: that whole «impersonal» approach to singing, which worked well when he was young and creepy, seems to have gotten a bit bland once he got older. Byrne, on the other hand, has lost none of the strident charm of his youth even as his hair got all white, and his singing adds a lot of personality and style to Eno's melodies.
Not that this is a great record — it is, intentionally and purposefully, a laid-back record, an exercise in leisurely contemplating life in all of its beauty and ugliness, in the face of a troubled past, a shaky present, and an uncertain future, and somehow it seems even more poignant and helpful in 2015, when I am writing this review, than it was in 2008. It totally works, yes, because Eno's melodies sound as if they were conceived in a hammock on a hot, lazy summer day, and Byrne here is the good old Byrne of ʽThis Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)ʼ, if you remember that cozy, comfy coda to Speaking In Tongues. A few of the tunes have jerky rhythm tracks, and a couple plunge into disturbingly dark electro-funk (ʽPoor Boyʼ), but on the whole, this is a very peaceful, though by no means rose-colored, affair. Byrne takes all sorts of stuff for lyrical inspiration — but even something like ʽThe Riverʼ, allegedly inspired by the Hurricane Katrina disaster, is a friendly, slow-rolling, sentimental ballad in execution. And even if few songs are catchy or heartbreaking, Byrne makes it all worthwhile by being as seductive as possible — sometimes, when he rises all the way to falsetto, he almost comes across as A-Ha's Morten Harket with a less cheap sense of taste and more intellectual experience. It's... odd, but good.
Some descriptions, following Eno's and Byrne's own interviews, pin this album down as «electronic gospel», and there might indeed be a certain influence — primarily mood-wise, in its determination to rejoice against all odds; but even such tracks as the closing ʽLighthouseʼ could hardly be categorized as gospel, since they lack the energy and straightforward passion of the average gospel epic (not to mention a good old choir of black singers in the background). I would rather take this description as tongue-in-cheek — a joking, but meaningful metaphor; and use it as a ʽLighthouseʼ for those who are weary and desperate, maybe equally disillusioned with the old world and afraid of the new one, but refusing to wallow in dead-end pessimism, because "Everything that happens will happen today / And nothing has changed but nothing's the same" in the long run, and I guess this applies equally well to this album's music (heck, to music in general) as it does to life in general. And this album kind of sucks, but it sort of rules, and it gets a thumbs down but what you see is a thumbs up.