David Byrne/Brian Eno My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts 2xLP (Nonesuch US)
Color me late to the party on this 2009 reissue.
The remastering isn’t an improvement. Overly bright in the mid-highs, meaning the already-tinny found vocals sound unpleasantly harsh, and the scratchy guitar chordings and electronic rhythms are especially metallic and jarring. Even at moderate volume, listening fatigue sets in long before side one is over. Conversely, the bass and mid-bass sound as if they’ve been kneecapped. Exasperated, I jump up, flip the first disc over, and engage the “bass EQ” switch (sacrilege!) on my old Adcom preamp and mitigate the wimpiness to an acceptable degree. The latter portion of the original album is a lot quieter and moodier than the first four or five songs, lacking a lot of the chattery rhythm machine programming. The album sounded MUCH better during this segment of listening.
The real reason I shelled out for this LP is the second disc of outtakes and basic tracks. These don’t disappoint. “Defiant” is an alternate version of “The Jezebel Spirit” with a different found vocal; it’s my favorite of all the bonus tracks. Side two of the second disc has two batches of three basic tracks: vocal, drum and “ambient” bits from “Help Me Somebody” and “A Secret Life.” The “ambient” track to “Help Me Somebody” gives a glimpse into the construction of the original– none of the thudding percussion or lo-fi found vocals, just a Busta Jones bass groove with ratchety guitars and atmospherics.
As for surface noise, the pressing’s not pristine, but the more subdued parts of the album play atop a mostly quiet background, with not too many pops and clicks. The discs aren’t classical-quality– whatever that is nowadays, by even Nonesuch standards, but they’re adequate (I was jolted by a bad skip at the end of “Pitch to Voltage” the first track on the second disc, as soon as I wrote that, of course).
Packaging: primo. Heavy stock tip-on gatefold sleeve, poly-lined innersleeves, extensive liner notes by Byrne/Eno (though, from the tone, I suspect they’re mostly Byrne), with an inner gatefold essay by David Toop. Points off the latter for his timeline– namechecking John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Steve Reich, Gavin Bryars, Jon Hassell, yes, yes, the goatee-strokers nod sagely….yet specifically not mentioning 1969’s Holger Czukay / Rolf Dammers album “Canaxis”, or Czukay’s masterpiece Movies (1979) as forerunners to Bush Of Ghosts’ found-vocal pan-ethnic pastiches. This is an omission that Byrne had the good grace not to make in his notes, but still.
To sell or not to sell?
I’ll hang on to this one. If I were more of a collector-scum crank (me?), I’d return it to SoundStageDirect.com for the bad skip on side three, but I’m not gonna, so maybe there’s still hope for me, who’s to say.
(As a side note – I ordered this LP and Marvin Gaye’s “What Goes On” (Mobile Fidelity) on sale from SSD and got free shipping via media mail. But It took them 6 days to process the order – not impressive. Their packing method and materials are the best, however. So I’ll not complain anymore than I already have. Plenty of time for that later).