Friday, December 4, 2009

Elvis Costello And Brian Eno - "My Dark Life"

One of the most unexpected collaborations of the 1990's was likewise hidden away in the most unexpected of places: "My Dark Life", a singular collaboration between Elvis Costello and Brian Eno, was featured on a record called Songs In The Key Of X - a soundtrack to the X-Files TV show. It's a shame that the track is in such a tucked away spot, because it's easily one of Costello's strongest tunes from the last decade.

Given that Eno and Costello have both worked in just about every genre, it may seem presumptuous to call their collaboration unexpected. Still, there's something about the two that seems disparate. Costello is a blood sweat and tears songwriter, who more often than not can bang a song out on the guitar as easily as he can record it in a studio. By contrast, Eno is something of a studio rat, seldom performing live and often working in production and "treatment" roles. However, regardless of their reputations, there's no question that by working together, the pair managed to get the best of both their talents.

"My Dark Life" is driven by what one might consider "typical" Eno treatments: there are small droning beats, lilting atmospheric synths, and a general feeling of unease. However, Costello jumps on board almost immediately, and his reverb laden guitar immediately takes the tune out of Eno's usual territory. As the song progresses, Costello crafts a bullet proof melody over a chord progression that gets more and more uniques with each minute. An exceedingly minor verse juxtaposed with a unquestionably major chorus creates a general feeling of imbalance that Costello navigates artfully well with his vocals.

With all of these facets, the track manages to occupy a unique space of being accessible, yet experimental and complex at the same time. The fact that it is the only collaboration between the two is a real shame: had their union yielded an entire record, we can only guess that it might have yielded a completely different leg of songwriting for the duo. Instead both have returned closer to their roots: Costello to garagey, cagey songwriting, and Eno to collaborating with long time friends like U2 and David Byrne.

Still, there are hints that Costello knows the song was a bit of a special moment for him: He's included it in his live sets, in particular his shows with Steve Nieve. Even in that stripped down environment, the song is an eerie and lovely piece of melancholy melody. Though it's been more than ten years, it's enough to keep us hoping that perhaps there might be a chance that this fantastic tune won't have to spend its days alone.

mp3: Brian Eno & Elvis Costello - My Dark Life
mp3: Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve - My Dark Life (Live At The Fillmore)