When it comes to stretching the boundaries of rock 'n' roll in bold and exciting new directions, the accomplishments of David Byrne and Brian Eno cannot be denied, together or separately. Nevertheless, the influence of their 1981 collaboration "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" actually ranks far below many of the Eno-produced Talking Heads albums or much of Eno's startlingly innovative solo catalog: Even 27 years ago, there was nothing all that original or appealing about an ethnologically-minded mix of various world rhythms and random vocal snippets captured via shortwave radio. Anyone who claims these boys invented sampling clearly never heard Can or musique concrete.
Right off the bat, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today" is a much more accessible, enjoyable and arguably better album than "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts"--at least if you care about conventional pop/rock songcraft. A collection of instantly winning and familiar tunes, many working what Byrne calls "a folk-gospel thing," it's Byrne's most melodic work since the Talking Heads, and Eno's most tuneful offering since "Wrong Way Up," his 1990 pairing with John Cale. (Included as a bonus track on the 2005 reissue of that disc, the Eno nugget "You Don't Miss Your Water" is pretty much the blueprint for most of "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," including the warm, content and optimistic lyrical vibe that permeates the disc.)
If there's a quibble to be made, it's that the lead vocals are dominated by Byrne, even though Eno has by far the stronger voice. Still, Eno's famous "harmonic stacks" of layered backing melodies do a lot to make Byrne sound less adenoidal and more human; the burbles, bleeps and rhythmic diversions hiding in the mix just below each song's driving melody offer the promise of hidden discoveries in countless spins to come and standout cuts such as "Strange Overtones," "Life Is Long," "The River" and the title track rank with the best either artist has ever given us.
Nearly three decades ago, after Eno first entered the Talking Heads' orbit and mind-melded with the band's leader, bassist Tina Weymouth bitterly cracked that, "By the time Brian and David finished working together for three months, they were dressing like one another. I can see them when they're 80 years old and all alone. There'll be David Bowie, David Byrne and Brian Eno, and they'll just talk to each other."
Well, none of these gents have reached that milestone quite yet, but if the soundtrack at the Retirement Home for Pop Super-Geniuses sounds anything like "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," that won't be a bad thing at all.