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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Brian Eno: Another Day On Earth


1) This; 2) And Then So Clear; 3) A Long Way Down; 4) Going Unconscious; 5) Caught Between; 6) Passing Over; 7) How Many Worlds; 8) Bottomliners; 9) Just Another Day; 10) Under; 11) Bone Bomb.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it; if it done got broke — for goodness' sake, just replace it already. All of Eno's half-hearted attempts to make bits of vocal pop music past the Seventies, be it with Cale, Schwalm, or anybody else, were incomparable in quality to the classic era; so why, after all this time, once again return to the vocal format, and this time, for an entire album? This attempt was simply bound to be half-hearted again, and it is.

Tucking some modern rhythms behind his belt, enlisting the help of some proverbially progres­sive stars, and alternating between sung, spoken, mumbled, and jumbled vocals, Brian here gives us an album that is both ambient and pop at the same time — or, rather, one that is neither am­bient nor pop. Essentially, it's a platter of moody mush that presents itself as something much more deep than it really is, and also contains some really bad sonic decisions, such as the frequent use of Autotune to transform Eno's normally handsome vocals into the last sounds of a rapidly melting Wicked Robot of the West.

Saddest of all, Another Day On Earth shows that Eno totally lost the capacity to amaze — now, when he is generating pop music, he is just generating pop music. It's not as if ʽThisʼ were a bad song, but it just sounds like any other semi-decent New Wave and later art-pop song. The drum machines are openly crappy (oh, where are those happy days when studio technology and organic Phil Collins could join in bliss and ecstasy on an opening track?), but much worse is the hidden crap effect, when the song is over and you realize that you don't remember anything about it ex­cept that, uh, it was... kind of happy-sounding and peaceful.

Or maybe this entire album is just a bit too happy-sounding and peaceful. See, when you combine faint pop hooks with friendly ambient soundscapes and meditative disposition, there's always a danger of losing focus, of drifting apart in your own mellowness. It's one thing when you are directly producing a stereotypical ambient album — it's totally another when you are using ambi­ence as a support for a «song», because then you get something like ʽA Long Way Downʼ, which is neither here nor there: as an ambient piece, it is let down by the inclusion of vocals, but as a vocal piece, it suffers from melodic minimalism. Like, would those Harold Budd collaborations have been better if Eno thought they needed vocal overdubs? Probably not, or he would have added those overdubs. Then why make that mistake here?

In the middle of the album, we unexpectedly get an almost upbeat, McCartney-esque pop ballad (ʽHow Many Worldsʼ), riding on a simple acoustic guitar riff and sporting unusually pathetic lyrics for Eno; I would have thought that lines like "our little world turning in the blue" would be way below his usual level of acceptance, but there you go — actually, the credits state that the lyrics were co-written with Michel Faber, the Dutch writer, and I sure hope he writes better no­vels than he does poetry. Anyway, it's kind of pretty, but it's also kind of childish: where in the past Eno had this knack for finding minimalist melodies that sounded like they were telling you The Lost Chord Truth of the universe, ʽHow Many Worldsʼ seems poised for a Sesame Street soundtrack. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but then offer it for a Sesame Street soundtrack, goddammit, not your long-awaited «pop comeback».

ʽJust Another Dayʼ, arriving near the end of the album, tries to somehow summarize it all and pre­sent a stately finale, and it's decent — with Brian using his imposing lower range on a basic vocal hook that, in a typical Eno manner, tries to marry the macrocosmically grand with the ut­most in simplicity. Decent, but not devastating: just like the song tries to convince us that "that was just another day on Earth", so is the song itself "just another song", celebrating Eno's gift for serenity and bliss in a routinely manner. After all, the music behind all this is just another mix of humming electronic textures, isn't it? And the percussion is dreadful.

The one really weird song on the album is ʽBone Bombʼ, serving here as a totally unexpected afterthought-style appendix — a series of bass and keyboard pulses, over which a vocally desen­sitized lady with a Laurie Anderson flair (not Laurie Anderson, though) piles up strings of free-form poetry, as if from the point of view of a suicidal terrorist ("bone bomb" is apparently a technical term for a suicide bomber whose own bones serve as lethal projectiles). Predictably, it's kind of creepy, although the subject matter is masked well enough for most people not to take notice. And even though the track is not pop at all, and even though I am not generally a fan of this kind of pretentious pseudo-shocking Relevant Art, I find myself strangely wishing that Ano­ther Day On Earth contained more of the same, instead of generally relying on that safe, cuddly, no longer all that interesting sound.

The sad truth is that the days on which Eno released albums like Another Green World and Before And After Science were not «just another day on Earth» kind of days — they were really special days with special musical events. We may, of course, simply agree with the artist that these days are gone for ever, and now every new day is just another day, regardless of whether you find a new Brian Eno record waiting for you or not. But if so, I don't think I want to be expli­citly told about it; I sort of know it already, you know. Disappointing.


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  3. I happen to disagree with your evaluation rather strongly. While surely not a masterpiece, it's a good album, full of memorable melodies and tasteful (albeit somewhat weird) arrangements. This, Under, Caught Between, How Many Worlds, Just Another Day are solid, memorable songs with well-defined hooks. It definitely took me some time to adjust to the [initially rather annoying] semi-ambient sound and Eno's vocals on this one; still, all said and done, it seldom left my mp3 player back in the 2005-early 2006. Needless to say, it sounds nothing like 70's Eno albums, but that was hardly unexpected.

  4. The thin melodies wouldn't be an issue if the arrangements sounded like anything but [i]mere[/i] synthesizers. These songs feel like empty picture frames, as if Eno wrote them specifically to showcase all the wonderful impressions he could give through sheer atmosphere but somehow forgot to actually put it in.

  5. I'm with Ilya, I find this a tremendously beautiful and moving album. A lot of great guitar work also. "Under" is probably my favorite track.

  6. Constantin VasilenkoNovember 22, 2015 at 10:23 PM

    I remember your old review of 'Bloodflowers', that part about "Last Day Of Summer" and the difference between what's on paper and on the actual record. To me, the same applies to the title track here. Somehow.