The last time David Byrne and Brian Eno linked up, the resulting album – 1981's My Life In the Bush of Ghosts – changed the course of pop music, although it would take the industry the best part of a decade to catch up with their collaging techniques, which in effect invented sampling. Harnessed to lock-tight rhythms, its layered montages of sonic bric-a-brac sought to encompass the vast breadth of audio-social experience becoming more easily available as communications technology shrank the world.
On its reissue in 2006, the pair touched base again and cooked up this follow-up, about as different in sound and attitude from Bush of Ghosts as could be imagined. This time, duties were more strictly delineated, Byrne writing lyrics for Eno's tracks, the two winging ideas back and forth via the internet.
They characterise the result as a sort of "electronic gospel", Byrne's vocals embedded in a choir of Eno's multitracked backing. Compared to its predecessor, it's a simpler, more reflective affair, the work of older men contemplating the limits of mortality and gazing back to the comforts of childhood. With its hissing iron-lung rhythms and gently strummed guitar, the opener "Home" nods to Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound" as Byrne peruses an old photo from "when the world was just beginning"; elsewhere, a glowing keyboard timbre illuminates the inevitability of death in "The Big Nurse". The prospect that "one sad day I will tiptoe away" is buoyed in "The River" by an arrangement with a colour and lightness recalling The Beach Boys.
Both "Everything That Happens" and "Life Is Long" take a similarly gentle approach to ageing, using respectively the lambent guitar chording long one of Eno's sonic trademarks, and in the latter, the swaying gait of a gospel chorale with flute highlights. "I'm lost, but I'm not afraid," Byrne sings, perhaps anticipating the decay of mental faculties. "Life is long, if you give it away." It's a mature attitude towards an unavoidable fact of life.
By the time "The Lighthouse" brings things to a close in a shimmering shroud of ambient tones, the twin fears of decrepitude and death have been tackled with maturity and warmth, and thereby diminished. A consolation for some, a miracle for others.
Pick of the album:'Life Is Long', 'Home', 'The River', 'Everything That Happens'