BRIAN ENO: BEYOND EVEN (1992-2006) (w. Robert Fripp) (2007)
1) Ringing Beat; 2) Gasp; 3) Sneering Loop; 4) Tripoli 2020; 5) Behold The Child; 6) Timean Sparkles; 7) Dirt Loop; 8) The Idea Of Decline; 9) Deep Indian Long; 10) Hopeful Timean; 11) Glass Structure; 12) Voices; 13) Cross Crisis In Lust Storm.
More Fripp & Eno for those who prefer their ambient spicy and with extra feedback on top. This album, too, has had a rather strange release history: originally made available only as a digital download, under the odd title of The Cotswold Gnomes, it was later released on CD as Beyond Even (1992-2006) in two versions: a single-CD package and a double-CD edition where you could either listen to all the compositions separately or segued together by means of rather unsophisticated fade-ins and fade-outs. Additionally, discographies tell me that at least one limited edition print of the CD (Japanese, I think) came under the title Unreleased Works Of Startling Genius — which, I assume, may be a title inspired by the form term «Area Of Outstanding National Beauty», which is actually applied to Cotswolds, referenced in the original name. But enough with this detective crap, or it may begin to look as if I'm actively interested in this or something.
As the title (one of the titles) tells us, these are indeed collaborative works with Fripp, many, if not most, of them being outtakes from the Equatorial Stars sessions. Since, however, there is no intended conceptual unity here (which sort of makes you question the necessity of making that special segued version), the tracks are more variegated in texture, mood, and arrangements: some are rhythmic, some purely atmospheric, some dark (more often), some light (more rarely), and at least one where a lisping (or Japanese) lady whispers "behold the child" in a multi-layered loop — good choice if you want to make your Christmas celebration as modernistically psychedelic as possible, although I might be misreading the artists' lofty spiritual goals here.
Additionally, where on Equatorial Stars Fripp would largely dissolve his solos in the surrounding atmosphere, adopting a quiet minimalistic mode as if he were Brian's humble disciple in the art of staying invisible (and inaudible), here there is a bit of the good old Frippertronics in the air, and some mighty devilish Crimsonian soloing from time to time, which comes greatly in handy when you want to shut your mind off, get all conservative as heck and just enjoy the old man getting all pissed off and volcanic on his guitar. For these purposes, I'd especially recommend ʽSneering Loopʼ (which is indeed a loop, and a fairly sneering one), parts of ʽRinging Beatʼ (although the wildest guitar parts there are locked inside a near-soundproof sarcophagus), and... and... okay, looks like I went over a top a bit. Oh no, there's actually some more on ʽThe Idea Of Declineʼ, bu that's about it.
Perhaps I was misled by the frequent presence of fellow Crimsonian Trey Gunn on a lot of these tracks — hugging the band's famous «Chapman Stick» that communicates a ferocious bass groove to most of them and greatly enhances the overall feeling of darkness by itself, so that Fripp can just sit back and modulate nonchalant cosmic rays with his six-string. That's how it goes on ʽTripoli 2020ʼ (the equivalent of cool jazz for the electronic age) and on most of ʽRinging Beatʼ. Elsewhere, the grooves are just replaced by impressionism (ʽGlass Structureʼ, which makes you feel trapped inside one, desperately trying to get out), exorcism (ʽVoicesʼ, taking you away to Ghostland), and try-your-patience minimalism (ʽDeep Indian Longʼ, which is like one bass note stretched out to five minutes — even a drone would drop dead from this drone).
On the whole, it's okay — definitely more «entertaining» than Equatorial Stars, but it also feels like these guys are long, long past the peaks of their creativity, because the tracks that remind of their early work are inferior to that work, and the tracks that try to take them into the future or at least keep them suspended in the now are most likely useless to fans of Aphex Twin or any other major IDM hero that was younger than fifty years old when he first began dabbling in IDM. On the other hand, you can't also get around the issue of professionalism and experience, or from the philosophical intrigue of what actually separates «a young man's ambient» from «an old man's ambient» — with rockers, as they age, the differences usually become clear, but what about wizards of atmosphere and technology? Seems like there's no proper dividing line here... or is there? Maybe that is the only credible reason why we still keep listening to these new Eno albums when we really should not be doing that.