In 2014 freedom of speech actually means you’re free to speak about almost anything as long as you remember the correct thing to say. Terrified and hysterical self-hating Christian fascists parade up and down outside provincial theatres objecting to a piece of faintly amusing musical theatre. Lunatic Muslim extremists clearly weighed down with way too much fucking time on their hands torch Norwegian mobile phone shops when there’s nothing Danish left to burn. Meanwhile, the rest of us, who realise that religions are just stories that some people are too frightened to leave behind with Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are left wondering where this madness began. Well, some of it began here.
In 1981 Byrne and Eno’s groove-based, collaborative album introduced the waiting world to music made with "found” sound -ie samples, samples of preachers, musicians, exorcists at work, natural noises, radio broadcasts, whatever the duo found inspring. One of the tracks on the original album, 'Qu'ran', featured a recording of Algerian Muslims chanting prayers and was a direct influence on the layered beat-isms of DJ Shadow. Sadly, it’s no longer here. In the person is speaking in tongues), a heat and purpose that places sex and life and death all in together.
Nobody had ever made a record that sounded like this before, though plenty have since. There can't be many records that have influenced Japan, Coldcut, Kanye West, KLF and Public Enemy equally. As far from Byrne’s clipped, asexual shtick as it is from Eno’s cadaver-cold ambient experimentia, ‘My Life...’ is blood warm throughout. ‘Come With Us' pulses hungrily, ’The Jezebel Spirit’ is taut and dynamic and was resurrected as an early acid house favourite, ‘America Is Waiting’ posits itself around the perimeter of the then very new world of hip-hop and ends up right at home next to Afrika Bambaata’s Kraftwerk-flavoured ‘Planet Rock’ from 1982.
Probably the greatest influence on the record was the Afro-funk sounds of Fela Kuti. On a trip to Africa, Eno was surprised to find the Afrobeat king listening to the same Talking Heads records he was trying to get away from. The world was getting smaller every day, while culture, music and religion were getting crushed together in ways no one had thought possible. A track like ‘Regiment’ may be a quarter of a century old, but its unafraid simplicity means it hasn’t dated by a day: one superheavy bassline, one simple, head-nodding drum pattern, one ecstatic sample of Lebanese mountain singer, Dunya Yusin, that’s pretty much it.
In 2014 terrible liberties are being taken with our liberties, yet no-one seems to have anything to say, any protest to make. Is it really going to fall to a record made during Ronald Reagan’s reign to show us all the way forward?
01. America Is Waiting - Brian Eno/David Byrne
02. Mea Culpa
04. Help Me Somebody
05. The Jezebel Spirit
06. Very, Very Hungry
07. Moonlight in Glory
08. The Carrier
09. A Secret Life
10. Come with Us
11. Mountain of Needles