I was very excited last year when the news came that David Byrne and Brian Eno would be releasing their first collaboration since 1981’s My Life In the Bush Of Ghosts. The album was a bit of a letdown — Ghosts was a groundbreaking record that still sounds ahead of its time a quarter-decade later, one that neither could have done on their own.
On the other hand, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is a small album of pretty songs that aren’t genuine collaborations. Rather, Byrne wrote lyrics for melodies that Eno, who “hates writing words,” had already written.* Byrne sings all the vocals, and Eno plays most of the instruments and probably produced the album (it’s credited to both, but the production and the sounds are classic Eno).
So it was a bit of a letdown at first, but it has slowly grown on me. The songs are beautiful, much better than most of Byrne’s recent look-at-how-many-world-musicians-will-come-to-play-with-me excursions. Byrne says of the music Eno sent him,
The foundation of some of the tracks are much like those of traditional folk, country, or gospel songs before these styles became harmonically sophisticated. Brian’s chord structures were unlike anything I would have chosen myself, so I was pushed in a new direction, asked to face the unfamiliar … The challenge was more emotional than technical: to write simple, heartfelt tunes without drawing on cliché. The results, in many cases, were uplifting, hopeful, and positive, even though some lyrics describe cars exploding, war, and similarly dark scenarios.
In his “I Believe In Singing” essay, Eno describes his love of songs “based around the basic chords of blues and rock and country music.” The instrumentation and arrangements aren’t always straightforward. “Poor Boy” uses a disturbing rhythm track that might have come directly from Ghost‘s “Help Me Somebody,” while “Never Today,” one of the bonus tracks, uses the distinctive analog synthesizer sound from Another Green World‘s “In Dark Trees.” But the latter is a beautiful song with the kind of simple, sparkling hook that Eno is so good at, and uncharacteristically simple (for Byrne) lyrics:
I never thought I would fall asleep tonight
I never thought that my arms could reach so high
But now and then we find
We’re walking and we’re talking for the very first time
And what I am is what I want to be.
And the packaging of the deluxe version is a joy in and of itself. Enough so that I did a whole Facebook photo essay of it.
*It’s worth noting that Byrne and Eno each wrote essays for the CD booklet discussing the origins of the album, and each tells a different story about this encounter. Byrne places it at Eno’s studio in London while Eno recalls it as a lunch in New York. I’m sure they noticed this too.