David Byrne & Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Elvis Costello once wrote about collaborating with Brian Eno that he "really admired Brian's ruthless and creative use of the erase button." Both Eno and David Byrne do their best work when they've got a creative foil — someone they clearly want to impress, who can offer them the gift of erasure as well as the gift of addition — and their first collaboration in a quarter-century is a return to their curious, push-and-pull synergy, with some of the most solidly crafted songs Byrne has sung since the end of Talking Heads.

After 25 years, Byrne and Eno collaborate again

Still, anyone expecting it to sound like their previous collaboration, 1981's epochal sound-collage My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, is likely to be surprised: Everything presents eleven straight-ahead rock songs, with Byrne singing and Eno mostly providing backing tracks for him, along with the occasional liquid-milk-chocolate backup vocal. (Eno's old compatriots Robert Wyatt and Phil Manzanera put in cameo appearances, too.)

In fact, if there's any previous Byrne/Eno collaboration that Everything That Happens Will Happen Today takes after, it's their first, Talking Heads '1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food. As on that record, the songs here are very simple on their surface, but it's the kind of simplicity that comes from stripping down something much more complicated.

Byrne has talked about how Everything That Happens was inspired by gospel songwriting, and that's true of the songs 'tone of hope in despair and emphasis on phrasing more than their structure and sentiments. There are hints of gospel in Byrne's lyrics here, like the line "chains and bars but I am still free" in "Life Is Long"; most of them, though, circle around thoughts of mortality and aging. The album's highlight is "Strange Overtones," a bubbling dance song that obliquely addresses Eno and Byrne's creative process and the worry that music's fashions have passed them by. And the title track is a sort of secular hymn, a profession of faith from which everything beyond what's plainly evident has become subject to the erase button.