Everything That Happens Will Happen Today Worth a Second Listen

26 Oct

The first time I heard David Byrne and Brian Eno’s latest album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, I couldn’t wait to review it so I could bash the weird vocals and unintelligible lyrics.  After I finished the album, to my dismay, the songs were stuck in my head.  It was then I came to the startling realization: I actually like Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.   The laid-back attitude and flowing melodies make it an album worth your time, even if it has that strangeness that only hipsters understand (or pretend to understand).

It has been nearly 30 years since Byrne and Eno have collaborated on an album.   Their last album, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was released in 1981 and rereleased in expanded form in 2006.  Byrne was a founding member of Talking Heads and the new wave band’s frontman and main songwriter.   Eno is a producer, songwriter, singer, and “the father of ambient music.”

According to Eno, the idea for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today came from a dinner conversation in which Eno said he had a lot of music he never made into songs and Byrne said he would like to work with Eno on those songs.  Like many songwriting duos, the two worked separately on the songs as Eno composed the instrumentals and Byrne constructed the lyrics and vocals.  You can’t tell this separation from listening to the music, though, because the vocals and instrumentals compliment each other, creating an atmospheric effect that is both haunting and enchanting.

© Copyright 2009 David Byrne and Brian Eno

While I was listening to the album for the first time, the biggest problem I had with it was the ridiculousness of the lyrics.  As someone who usually values clarity in lyrical content, I was frustrated when I couldn’t figure out what the songs were saying.  The worst of this lyrical confusion was in “I Feel My Stuff,” the third track, which includes the bewildering refrain “Lebanese take their sailors home/The broken stuff in the outer wall/I’m sticking out in the road/Memorize toilets, Chang Mai School.”  Once I came to terms with myself and admitted that I liked the album, I had to also admit that I liked the lyrics.   The randomness of words reflects the unconscious flow of thought, something that resonates with each of us as we think about the music while we listen.

It also isn’t so much about what the lyrics are saying as it is how the lyrics sound.  Eno and Byrne have described their music as “electronic gospel” in which “singing becomes the central event.”  It’s an accurate description, especially since at many times the vocals are mixed higher than the sythny sounds of the instrumentals or are at least very prominent.  In the fourth track, “Everything That Happens,” the vocals haven even more of a gospel-like echo, especially when a choir of harmonies breaks out at the end.  While the lyrics mimic unconscious thought, the gospel-esque vocals resonate within your soul.  Even if you don’t know the lyrics, the songs will get stuck in your head because of the reverberating nature of the vocals.

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today puts its best foot forward with “Home,” the first and best track on the album.  It’s unlike most of the other tracks because the lyrics are somewhat logical and the instrumentals are more acoustic than experimental.  “Home” has the acoustic undertones of Simon and Garfunkel, the funky sounds and easily flowing lyrics of Lennon and McCartney, resulting in the best of Byrne and Eno.

Even after the album grew on me, I still cannot stand “The River,” the sixth track on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.  Unlike the other songs, “The River” has heavy percussion that clashes with the vocals rather than support it.  The marching band drum cadence in the background is distracting and something that sounds like jingle bells creates a creepy and puzzling atmosphere.  In the end, the percussion makes the song irritating and doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album.

Except for “The River,” Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is a great album to listen to while studying or just chilling.  The music is calm enough to not be distracting but not so mellow that it makes you fall asleep.  The sometimes kooky lyrics make great topics of discussion if you listen to the album with friends or can chill you out if you’re listening alone.  I usually don’t like this kind of experimental new wave music, but there’s something about Byrne and Eno that warms the soul and stimulates the mind.

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