BRIAN ENO: THE EQUATORIAL STARS (w. Robert Fripp) (2004)
1) Meissa; 2) Lyra; 3) Tarazed; 4) Lupus; 5) Ankaa; 6) Altair; 7) Terebellum.
Long time no see! The last «Fripp & Eno» album had been released almost thirty years ago, even though, technically, the two sonic wizards still managed to cross creative paths every now and then. Lots of water under the bridge, too, and while the title of this third full-scale collaboration also happens to have the word star in it, the album has very little in common with Evening Star, or, in fact, with anything that you'd normally associate with Robert Fripp.
Genre-wise, this here is not «noise», or «drone»: The Equatorial Stars, a record dedicated to the still, visibly immanent beauty and mystery of those little lighted dots above our heads, is a 100% ambient record, focusing on static atmosphere much more than on any sort of musical development. And old man Robert seems perfectly content here to stick to a quiet, inobtrusive, repetitive style of playing, without any dynamic pre-planning of where a particular guitar melody is supposed to go or how it could gradually and subtly gain in intensity. In other words, a perfect setup is made for one of the most boring albums ever released — a record in which Robert Fripp, the demon hero of ʽ21st Century Schizoid Manʼ, signs a contract with your local airport.
Strangely, though, the setup works, and scrolling up to see which was the previous Brian Eno ambient album that I liked to a comparable degree, I stopped at Apollo, which was hardly surprising — it's like The Equatorial Stars simply forgets about everything Eno did in between 1983 and 2004, and acts as a logical sequel to that mini-masterpiece. Only instead of grizzly Canadian bear Daniel Lanois you get clean-cut English gentleman Robert Fripp, who never forgets to wear a freshly starched collar under that space suit. Do they offer five o'clock tea on Meissa? Probably not, which is why they had to visit all the other stars as well.
Actually, Fripp as a contributor to the frozen field of ambient turns out to be surprisingly efficient. On ʽMeissaʼ, set against Brian's twinkle-twinkle-little-star droplets of electronic keyboards, he plays a minimalistic bass-heavy humming solo, which often sounds as if someone were really slowly bowing a cracked old cello with just one string on it — and the two parts merge together blissfully, as if Eno's high-pitched sounds were «life», Fripp's low-grumbling solo were «death», and everything else was trapped in between. Or if you think that's pretty far-fetched, you can just return to the usual idea of various types of aliens roaming the galaxy. Small, hasty, fussy ones engineered by Eno and large, slow, grumbly ones manipulated by Fripp.
The formula is repeated in a number of similar, but slightly different ways throughout the record, and it's not as if every track here has its own face: in fact, your conscience will probably only be slightly altered with ʽAltairʼ, where we have some programmed percussion and a surprisingly funky, though very faintly mixed, rhythm track — hello from the age of Nerve Net? — that might just as well not be present. Maybe they got it from a reliable source in the astrological community that the population on Altair is particularly fond of nightclubbing, but more likely, they just had this rhythm track lying around by accident and they thought that it would be a nice incidental way to confound some people's expectations. Because it doesn't really matter — what matters are those little whistling flushes and flusters of guitar-like keyboards and keyboard-like guitars, probably representing the careless (and purposeless) spirits of all your dead ancestors who were seduced by low rent costs on Altair over the millennia. The rhythm track is just an echo of the irritating boombox that one of the brothers forgot to turn off.
Anyway, to me it all seems like a decent return to ambient form by Eno, and a startling side project for Fripp — unlike those two early albums, Equatorial Stars may not lay any claim to any sort of innovation, but it is still a somewhat different project, and it actually makes an even colder, an even more dangerous and impenetrable place out of open space than Apollo ever did. It seems too busy to get everything possible out of just one type of atmospheric texture to be really comparable to Apollo — but it does achieve what it set out to do. Probably the best way to experience it, though, would be by blasting it at full volume into the sky on a particularly clear and starry night while lying on your back in the grass and trying to remember as many constellation names as your memory allows you to carry. This will bring you one step closer to rupturing the spacetime continuum, I'm sure, and you'll never want to worry about the little things again.