About two years ago, a man in black skinny jeans and a purple silk button-down stood in front of a packed Green Hall. He shared his belief that art should aim to create spectacle from the ordinary. But that man was David Byrne, and his attempt to be ordinary — giving a lecture in an art school — seemed the greatest spectacle.
Byrne’s lecture on that distant April afternoon elegantly describes his two projects with long-time friend and innovative musician in his own right Brian Eno. The pair, who first worked together in 1978 on “More Songs About Buildings and Food,” released the fantastically bizarre “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” in 1981. On that album, the duo sought to make a “series of recordings based on an imaginary culture … and try to pass it off anonymously as the genuine article,” but they eventually scrapped this idea and instead recorded an album fueled by found recordings — radio proselytizing, tribal chants, news broadcasts, self-help sermons. Blending prosaic sound bytes with Eno’s ambient electronica and the Byrne-influenced percussion, the album was indeed a spectacle that questioned the art of song making itself.
The self-released “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” is the latest stop on the Eno-Byrne collabotrain. In the almost 30 years that have passed, they’ve scaled back; instead of challenging the foundations of musical convention, here they present a pristine pop album whose best tracks recall “Nothing But Flowers” ’s jingle, the swagger of their “Take Me To The River” or the creamy melodies of Byrne’s “Glass, Concrete & Stone.”
“Everything That Happens” was the result of a sort of musical experiment. Eno had composed a handful of pieces, but didn’t know what to do with them. Byrne, helping a buddy out, listened to the tracks and offered to pen lyrics that corresponded to the “folk-electronic-gospel feeling” that he heard in Eno’s compositions. The collaboration resulted in what Eno, perhaps the more eloquent of the two, described as “music in which singing becomes the central event, but whose sonic landscapes are atypical of such vocal-centered tracks.” These men will never just make music.
Byrne’s now 56 and judging by his lyrics, he seems to be growing a little self-conscious of his age. On “Strange Overtones,” so called for the song’s own melodies and one of the album’s best tracks, Byrne sings “This groove is out of fashion / these beats are 20 years old.” And the misguided “I Feel My Stuff” offers a disclaimer: “I like my song but I lost my cool” (and he may have done so on that one). But there’s nothing to fret over, as most of the album offers the bright, kicky punk or lush sprawl that have come to characterize Byrne and Eno respectively.
In a way, this release is the appropriate counterpart to their previous outfit; while “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” turned what was once artless into art, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” is a self-referential look at the process of art-making. Byrne and Eno will always incorporate the intellectual into their craft. And they’ll always achieve spectacle.