David Byrne/Brian Eno
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
(Self-released/Todo Mundo; 2008)
By Dom Sinacola | 26 November 2008
Well, not like we were all expecting another My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)—the fact that it took twenty-plus years to build a decently interesting mythos around that album makes subtler predictions for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today appropriate enough. More obvious is how completely comfortable both David Byrne and Brian Eno seem with their methods, melodies, conceits (old man feelings about getting old; old person feelings about getting person’d; old feeling men about feeling man-ness), and arrangements, as if the coldness and detachment of their best work has warmed to be more of a pleasant chuckle than the brash, absurd joke from before. Sure, sterile paranoia is hard to stomach all the time. (The two, after all, did lease out the beginning of the ’80s with a populist dread; with the aesthetic ideal that the malaise of artists of their generation was at the mercy of and probably caused by the looming dreadnought of [electronic] experimentation; and that the best way they could feel good, even free, about their own stuff is if they made their experimentation an accessible experience. They made “world music” and defined it in recontextualization and analog grunt work. They made blue collar electronica, boxed-in odes to food and sweat and lamps that still had enough peripatetic wonder to stretch into the most exoticized parts of the non-western world.) But the sheer disappointment of this album twenty-something years in the making is that it wasn’t twenty-something years in the making, just a collaborative lark in comparison, devoid of all the bloodshot discovery that made the duo’s previous work so rewarding.
In 1980, Byrne and Eno were a conspiracy of assholes, basically steering the artistic direction of more people than they cared to count based on a humorless obsession to be humorless obsessives. For the most part, Brian Eno’s always seemed like something of an asshole, but usually his noxiousness turned out to be more steadfast and interesting than whatever android assholishness Byrne postured over his stubborn, weird work ethic. For a short few years together, they were dynamite, bigheaded awesome jerks. Now they peddle neat, gray headshots and dress up public exhibitions with lipstick. Their music has become, ever and ever, a mushy meat-and-potatoes meal, each Coldplay album or art showing or blog post a four-courser of iOldMan artsy values with gravy ladled on top. I still wonder if now, with Byrne revered and Eno ubiquitous, the two have gotten everything they’ve so urgently demanded in the past, back when urgency meant something to their extremely physical music. But then here comes Everything That Happens Will Happen Today and it kinda drips of uppity self-actualization.
And those aren’t preconceived impressions, assumptions we’ve made about some of our favorite artists that, oh shit now, they have to live up to. We’re talking the respect that allows them to be free to commission buildings into instruments and Chris Martin into Bono and Americana or Tropicalia into music for airports. Far from brutal, the awaited album’s just too easy, a freebie with no comeuppance in sight. Well: pshaw. And phew. Disrespect was inevitable, maybe, but disappointment never was. The duo call it “electronic gospel,” and that’s interpreted by Byrne as a focus on the vocals (as opposed to on minutely shifting beat patterns), which is executed as an essentially bland transformation of some ecstatic, revelatory form of music into Byrne’s voice, operatic and shrill, over smooth jazz or squeaky synths. It sounds grating on paper and comes off even more annoying, a long desert walk from whatever visceral performances would actually fit the bill. Just look to “I Feel My Stuff” to understand how Byrne and Eno so completely miss the mark. That middle part when Byrne puts on his goblin mask and picks his snout and sings about grabbing himself with the other hand especially laminates the whole song in some stagnant early ’90s alterna-bubble where a grunge squall means business.
A few clunkers (“Wanted For Life” and, ugh, “Poor Boy”) pester the clear, rising melody of “Everything That Happens” or the honesty in “Home” (Simon and Garfunkel would be proud if they didn’t die in that horrible ferris wheel accident), but the rest of the songs settle in like bad, boring theater, prenatally important. The terrible truth of this album hangs stupidly overhead—that it’s a yawner. Somewhere, a Tina Weymouth gets her wings.