David Byrne and Brian Eno
"My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts"
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die + 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
In "My Time in the Bush of Ghosts," we again find an album that is a struggle to classify. I especially enjoyed the Wikipedia suggestions for the record: "experimental" and "art rock." You can look at the two names on the album cover, David Byrne and Brian Eno, and make the assumption that the product inside will be both experimental and artsy. Eno is one of the most influential figures ever within the electronica genre, both as a producer and musician, and Byrne made a name for himself with the Talking Heads before releasing a boatload of solo albums, none of which sound alike. If I had to choose one artist to label as "experimental," it would be Byrne.
Moon and his cohort from 1001 Albums make no bones about "Bush's" most influential aspect being its emphasis on sampling. Byrne and Eno are the first to admit that they weren't the first to feature audio sampling in their recordings, but there's no record that uses the method as extensively or conclusively prior to "Ghosts." The duo didn't draw much from preexisting music, which makes it distinct from the style of sampling that later became prevalent in hip-hop. Rather, they took bits of radio interviews, religious ceremonies or whatever sounded interesting, and set it to music. The album could realistically be described as "Real Life: The Remix." Although the audio bits aren't from existing songs, it's not realistic to argue that Byrne and Eno's methods didn't inspire hip-hop producers like The Dust Brothers (who produced the dense beats for The Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique").
Byrne and Eno deserve credit for paving the way for sampling in the future, but they don't get enough respect for the way in which they used the samples. Songs struggle to keep the average listener attentive if there isn't a hook, or at least some type of vocal part. As a result, instrumental tracks generally fail to attain much popularity. Byrne didn't want to handle any vocals on "Bush," but he understood that he needed something to keep the listener's attention. Therefore the duo used the samples in place of a vocalist, pairing them with their band, which make the tracks arguably instrumental and standard vocal tracks at the same time.
The variety of samples keeps the album interesting, almost as if a different vocalist were handling each track. During "Regiment," it's a Lebanese mountain singer, and during "The Jezebel Spirit" it's an actual exorcist. "Mea Culpa" features the apology of a politician masterfully layered over itself by Eno. If the album had to be classified as a genre, the best bet would probably be funk. A number of players keep the bass popping like Sly and The Family Stone during most tracks, and the typical percussive approach is a dense layer of African drums. This may be an "art rock" album, but that doesn't stop it from making the listener move.
The best news about this record is that although it was the first album to use extensive sampling, it doesn't sound dated in the least. Byrne has a tendency to team up with other talented musicians to produce excellent albums (I'd also recommend his 2010 album with Fatboy Slim, "Here Lies Love"), but none are as quality as this one.
INTERESTING FACT: The 1981 release featured a song titled "Qu'ran," using a group of Muslims chanting text while music played in the background. However an Islamic group requested the duo drop the track from the 2006 re-release as they dubbed it "blasphemous." Byrne and Eno acquiesced. I just found it funny that it wasn't "blasphemous" in 1981.