Yesterday, David Byrne and Brian Eno released Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, their first full-length album together since 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Unlike that album, this one actually features Byrne’s vocals. It holds its own against recent Byrne albums and other late Eno collaborations, with the exception of last year’s release from Robert Wyatt, Comicopera, which contains what I think are the finest Eno co-writes in years.
I’m almost more interested in the duo’s demeanor and m.o. on this release than in the music itself, though I’ve enjoyed streaming it while puttering around the house catching up on work yesterday and this morning. I’m interested not just in the fact that the collaboration happened, this go around, via email (Eno writing tunes and hooks and laying down beats and Byrne composing songs and lyrics from these building blocks), but also in their decision to self-publish and -promote. “In the past, I might have undertaken all kinds of expensive marketing
plans to prepare for a record release,” Byrne wrote on his blog a couple weeks ago, announcing the early release of a free MP3 from the album. “[T]here would be a teaser, live
shows, posters, magazine ads, interviews, and advance CDs sent to
writers and reviewers. We’ve done a few interviews, but that’s about
it.” For this record, though, the “Internet word-of-mouth” experiment seems to be part of the fun. According to the Times, the free download, “Strange Overtones,” saw 40,000 downloads in the first three days it was posted. (If you’ve never read Byrne’s online “journal,” by the way, you should know that he’s among the best contemporary NY bloggers.)
They’ve now made the entire album available for streaming, and even set up a nice little widget that allows you to stream from blogs like ours if you’d like:
Byrne and Eno met on May 14, 1977, the day Byrne’s band, the seminal New York art-punks Talking Heads, headlined their first show in England, where they had traveled to support another New York punk band, the Ramones. Eno, an experimental musician who had played with the legendary glam outfit Roxy Music and was currently guiding David Bowie through one of his most fertile periods, was in the back of the club recording the gig illicitly; the band’s management confiscated his recorder and sat him closer to the stage. In some versions of the story, former Velvet Underground member John Cale (who had worked with other downtown New York acts since) was at the same gig. David Bowman, in his biography of Talking Heads, says that Eno and others recall Cale saying something to Eno like “Get out of the way, Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, I want them, you bugger.” Cale says he wasn’t there.
Eno did wind up producing Talking Heads records; he spent more and more time in New York, which he thought of, according to Bowman, like a “medieval European city”:
Eno liked shopping in Chinatown for weird odds and ends. The smell of burned meat was in the air from a shish kabob stand. He passed by windows hung full with dead red ducks. Windows full of water and huge fish with the faces of old men. An Asian dwarf writing calligraphy on the window of a bank.
Eno’s 1978 pop album Before and After Science includes a Heads-style homage to the band called “King’s Lead Hat,” an anagram for the band’s name. That same year, Eno also made downtown NYC music history by curating the album No New York, a compilation of four post-CBGB/post-punk minimalist bands: the Contortions, Mars, DNA, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (fronted by Lydia Lunch). In many ways, the No New York album is the bridge between the mid-70s downtown scene and 80s post-punk New York landmark bands like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo.
If Everything That Happens doesn’t fully live up to expectations, recall just how much its creators have shaped the soundscape of our own contemporary NY scenes — and how much better even their late efforts are than most of the crap rolled out and cut from corporate cookie-cutter music factories.