David Byrne / Brian Eno My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a perfect example of experimental music gone right. Seen in today’s context of the no wave/death disco revival, MLITBOG seems more of its time than a break with the past. The turn of the ’80s saw punk energy represented by Byrne, and the theoretical sonics represented by Eno searching for a newer, more expansive vocabulary only to retreat in the face of counter-revolutionary charges of cultural imperialism by the end of the decade. This wasn’t just happening in post-punk scenes in New York and London, either — soukous and Afrobeat were second-generation Afropop fusions, which liberally borrowed musical expressions of other cultures to create something fresh and radical. These were all examples of the "coffee coloured” music of the future, to use Jon Hassell’s phrase recounted by David Toop’s notes. In that sense, the tracks on side one, with rhythms that are avowedly rooted in Afro-American dance music, are least successful at expressing a rootlessly cosmopolitan rhythmic statement. They’re pretty damn funky, though, using echo in a compositional way, and familiar pop-song verse-chorus development to elevate these songs beyond the sum of their ingredients. Side two, and the outtakes presented as "side three” on this disc, are more intriguing now because of their emphasis on matching the tonalities and cadences of the vocal sources to less genre-specific rhythms and instruments. A glaring omission of this remastered edition is the unexplained lack of the song "Qu’ran” from the original album. This is all the more egregious given the laborious liner notes concerning the role of vocal samples, and the concept of "clearing” them in the first place in this project. Still, the improvement in the master brings new elements to the mix that were buried before and makes this disc worth purchasing even for long-time fans. (Nonesuch)