BRIAN ENO: THE PEARL (w. Harold Budd) (1984)
1) Late October; 2) A Stream With Bright Fish; 3) The Silver Ball; 4) Against The Sky; 5) Lost In The Humming Air; 6) Dark-Eyed Sister; 7) Their Memories; 8) The Pearl; 9) Foreshadowed; 10) An Echo Of Night; 11) Still Return.
It is not easy, by all means, to find those precious words which would explain the difference between the second Budd/Eno collaboration and the previously discussed first one (Plateaux Of Mirror). Technically, this one does not bear the subtitle Ambient #, which does not, however, make it any less ambient; and also technically, this one was co-produced by Eno and Lanois, which does not, however, imply that Lanois played anything on it or contributed something in the way of production technique that we would never hope to perceive on a completely Eno-produced record. I mean, when it's U2 playing their instruments or Bob Dylan shaking up the musical world with a mighty comeback — yes, that is when Daniel's production really makes its mark. But when it's just Harold Budd at the keys and Eno responsible for synth hums, no, not really.
Which is not to say that The Pearl is somehow deficient in comparison to Plateaux. Thematically, perhaps, its soundscapes are now more closely related to water, rather than air and heights, yet I wonder how much of that impression has been forced upon me by secondary reasons — such as the album cover, or the album title, or ʽA Stream With Bright Fishʼ. Maybe it also has to do with Budd's regular piano-playing occupying even more time here, or with his using the sustaining pedal more often, giving the melodies a «rippling» effect (title track is a good example). In any case, it's a convenient impression that allows me to put both records together as companion, rather than competing, pieces.
Again, if you wish, you can interpret the sequence as an uneventful, but highly impressionistic journey, from the wake of a ʽLate Octoberʼ day, culminating in the finding and blissful contemplation of ʽThe Pearlʼ and ending with ʽAn Echo Of Nightʼ (this is the one track where Budd almost completely disappears and lets Eno and Lanois spin a crepuscular web of chirping crickets, chilly night breezes, and deep ghostly sighs), after which, as a post-scriptum, ʽStill Returnʼ offers either a dream perspective or an outsider archangel's look at the sleeping world. None of the tracks stand out, as usual, or offer any particularly stunning musical solutions, but that is not the point — for stunning musical solutions, check out Debussy's Préludes instead. The Pearl is still an exercise in minimalism, where you are supposed to admire the beauty of the overtone rather than the beauty of the chord change. On his own, Budd is hardly a great composer or a great piano player — but Eno (and Lanois) simply use his phrasing as source material for transforming the piano into a «super-piano», enhanced with studio technologies and contrasted with electronic backgrounds for increased effect. It may not work well enough to encourage them to repeat the experiment with Budd playing actual Bach / Schubert / Debussy pieces, but it works well enough with Budd's own pieces, and that counts.