Critic John Bush describes it as a "pioneering work for countless styles connected to electronics, ambience, and Third World music", and in a 1985 interview, singer Kate Bush remarked that the album "left a very big mark on popular music". The extensive use of sampling on the album is widely considered ground-breaking—it was one of the first to do so—but its actual influence on the sample-based music genres that later emerged continues to be debated.
Pitchfork Media listed My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as the 21st best album of the 1980s. Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 83 on its list of the "Best Albums of 1980s".
The "found objects" credited to Eno and Byrne were common objects used mostly as percussion. In the notes for the 2006 expanded edition of the album, Byrne writes that they would often use a normal drum kit, but with a cardboard box replacing the bass drum, or a frying pan replacing the snare drum; this would blend the familiar drum sound with unusual percussive noises.[full citation needed] Rather than conventional pop or rock singing, most of the vocals are sampled from other sources, such as commercial recordings of Arabic singers, radio disc jockeys, and an exorcist. Musicians had previously used similar sampling techniques, but critic Dave Simpson declares it had never before been used "to such cataclysmic effect" as on My Life.
In 2001, Q magazine asked Eno whether he and Byrne had invented sampling. He replied:
No, there was already a history of it. People such as Holger Czukay had made experiments using IBM Dictaphones and short-wave radios and so on. The difference was, I suppose, that I decided to make it the lead vocal on the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
The album was recorded entirely with analogue technology, before the advent of digital sequencing and MIDI. The sampled voices were synchronized with the instrumental tracks via trial and error, a practice that was often frustrating, but which also produced several happy accidents.
Also according to Byrne's 2006 notes,[full citation needed] neither he nor Eno had read Tutuola's novel before the album was recorded. Both were familiar with Tutuola's earlier The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), but his My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was not easily obtained in the U.S. when the material was recorded. Even without reading the book, Eno and Byrne thought the title reflected their interest in African music, and also had an evocative, vaguely sinister quality that also referenced the voices sampled for the album: the vocalists were recorded sometimes several decades before being re-appropriated by Eno and Byrne, and the voices often seemed to take on unanticipated qualities when placed in the new context.
Having tried a few different directions for LP cover art, we decided to incorporate the video monitor as a painting tool, as Brian and others were doing here and there. By pointing the camera at the monitor and generating video feedback a few little cutout humanoid shapes pasted on the screen would be infinitely multiplied. And by fussing with the color setting on the backs of the TV sets one could saturate and skew the color quite a bit. I also took some pictures of just skewed vortexes and whorls of color, and then we did some images where we skewed the color on pictures that had been taken of ourselves and then took polaroids of the results. Somehow, despite it being very techie, these techniques also seemed analogous to what we were doing on the record. It was funky as well as being techie. Extremely lo tech actually, and not what you were supposed to do with a TV set[dead link]
The album enthused Rick Wright of Pink Floyd, "knocked me sideways when I first heard it – full of drum loops, samples and soundscapes. Stuff that we really take for granted now, but which was unheard of in all but the most progressive musical circles at the time… The way the sounds were mixed in was so fresh, it was amazing."[full citation needed]
The album was reissued on March 27, 2006 in the UK and April 11, 2006 in the US, remastered and with seven extra tracks. To mark the reissue, two songs were made available to download online, consisting of the entire multitracks. Under the Creative Commons License, members of the public are able to download the multitracks, and use them for their own remixes.
The track "Qu'ran" was excluded from this release without comment. However, in an interview for Pitchfork Media about the 2006 reissue, Byrne said:
Way back when the record first came out, in 1981, it might have been '82, we got a request from an Islamic organization in London, and they said, 'We consider this blasphemy that you put grooves to the chanting of the Holy Book.' And we thought, 'Okay, in deference to somebody's religion, we'll take it off.' You could probably argue for and against monkeying with something like that. But I think we were certainly feeling very cautious about this whole thing. We made a big effort to try and clear all the voices, and make sure everybody was okay with everything. Because we thought, 'We're going to get accused of all kinds of things, and so we want to cover our asses as best we can.' So I think in that sense we reacted maybe with more caution than we had to. But that's the way it was.
In the 1982 second edition, the track "Qu'ran"—which features samples of Qur'anicrecital—was removed at the request of the Islamic Council of Great Britain. In its place "Very, Very Hungry" (the B-side of "The Jezebel Spirit" 12" EP) was substituted. The first edition of the CD (1986) included both tracks, with "Very, Very Hungry" as a bonus track. Later editions (1990 and later) followed the revised LP track order without "Qu'ran."