More than a quarter of a century ago, producer Brian Eno and then Talking Heads singer David Byrne teamed up for a now classic venture into found sounds, modern-primitive rhythms, and koan-like observations into the mundane. That album was My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, released in 1981 and re-released on its 25-year anniversary in a remastered edition. News began circulating earlier this year (disquiet.com, nydailynews.com) that the duo would again team up. For a little while now, their modest project website, everythingthathappens.com, has had a little email opt-in window in which you could exchange your email address for eventual notification, due out yesterday, August 4, that a free MP3 of one of their new collaborative tracks would be available for download. I received that highly anticipated email at 12:21pm Eastern time, right on schedule.
The track is titled “Strange Overtones” and observers of Eno’s output as a producer will find the backing music more similar to his work with Paul Simon (on Surprise) than with Coldplay (who employed a similar free-MP3 promotional effort for their recent Eno-fied album, Vida la Vida). The rhythms are burbling and lopey, a salty, slurpy take on African pop, with dubby echoes, vintage synth sounds, and that richly ambiguous sonic bed for which Eno is best known. The song is much more straightforward pop than were the experimental studio cut-ups of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. More than anything, “Strange Overtones” resembles the music on Eno’s 1990 tandem album with John Cale (of the Velvet Underground), Wrong Way Up, production on which was so intense that, somewhat famously, it adversely affected the two’s relationship. Apparently the new Byrne-Eno effort went more smoothly; a U.S. tour is planned, currently due to start September 16 of this year and run through November 8 (full dates at everythingthathappens.com). (Quick correction: It appears that Eno won’t be on the tour. It’ll be Byrne with a band doing music he’s recorded with Eno, including material from the three Talking Heads album Eno produced.)
“This groove is out of fashion,” Byrne sings at one point, “these beats are 20 years old.” And later: “Your song still needs a chorus.” That certainly isn’t the case for “Strange Overtones,” which is a tantalizing taste of the full album, due out August 18.