Waiting For A Message Of Some Kind Or Another

In 1981 David Byrne and Brian Eno released an album which they’d been working on since 1979. It still sounds remarkably fresh today, even if some of its key features and devices have become pop culture cliche- ranting evangelical preachers and TV announcers. I remember buying My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts in the late 80s and finding it bewitching and startling then and on Side A as funky and rhythmic a record as any contemporary ones. Eno and Byrne relied on some happy accidents, syncing up found voices with tape loops, dropping in rhythm tracks recorded using boxes and plastic containers as drums, recording people off the radio, but they also had some serious, heavy duty rhythm sections at their disposal too, Chris Frantz, Prairie Prince, Bill Laswell and Busta Jones. The opener was/is this one, a song that explodes out of the traps, bursts of bass and guitar and loops, ominous and tense but definitely capable of causing some shapes to be thrown.

America Is Waiting

Byrne was into the idea of the songs having vocals but not having to write any lyrics. As a vocalist he found he was expected to express himself through the words to a song. What he says he often found was that the music and the lyric triggered the emotion in him rather than the other way around. Using sampled and recorded voices (and this was pre- sample clearing days, which held up the release of Bush of Ghosts), voices where the speaker was already expressing high emotion such as preachers, in a different context, dropping them into music they’d already recorded, took the original voice and vocal elsewhere. This became standard, the sampling of voices and using them in dance records, but it’s pretty forward thinking here.

Side B is less voice focused and more moody, ambient and less based around rhythms to make the listener move. In 2008 a re issued CD version came with seven extra tracks. The running order and track selection of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts changed several times during its conception and according to Byrne’s liner notes any of the extras could have made the final release if they hadn’t been constrained by the limitations of vinyl’s running time. This one starts with a burst of noise, silence and then a fade in, percussion, a repeated bass riff, a distorted noise, chimes and what could be a cuckoo clock. Short but intriguing. I wonder if the title refers to the then balance of power within Talking Heads and their producer (Eno and Byrne versus Weymouth, Frantz and Harrison).

Two Against Three