BRIAN ENO: SOMEDAY WORLD (w. Karl Hyde) (2014)
1) The Satellites; 2) Daddy's Car; 3) Man Wakes Up; 4) Witness; 5) Strip It Down; 6) Mother Of A Dog; 7) Who Rings The Bell; 8) When I Built This World; 9) To Us All; 10) Big Band Song; 11) Brazil 3; 12) Celebration; 13) Titian Bekh.
Still another addition to the already seemingly endless list of Eno's collaborators, this time in the form of Karl Hyde, one of the founding fathers of the electronic band Underworld and, since 2013, also a solo artist. In other words, this is the first time since the Peter Schwalm collaboration that Brian enlists another electronic musician as equal partner; and considering how frequently the old guru gets in creative trouble when trying to saddle more modern styles of electronica, the setup suggests disaster from the get-go — once again, the master of soft nuance will try to convince us that he's just as good at techno-trance as the youngsters? (Let alone the fact that Karl Hyde himself is only nine years younger than Eno himself).
Surprisingly, the suggestion is screwed: not only is this not a disaster, but Someday World is, in fact, one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, record to come from the Eno printing press in the 21st century. Its basic denomination is pop — most of the tunes feature vocals, repetitive structures, hooks, choruses — but the individual styles, mostly furnished with electronic arrangements, are quite varied, ranging from Eno's classic upbeat style of the 1970s to dance music styles that rather reflect the «Hyde generation» of the late Eighties / early Nineties than anything considered «modern» in the 2010s. Which is a good thing — the two gentlemen are doing here what they do best, without necessarily attempting to sound in line with the times.
There are a lot of synthesized horns here, although, since there are also real horn players (including none other than Roxy Music's Andy Mackay on alto saxophone), it is not always easy to tell digital brass from analog brass with digital treatment; on ʽThe Satellitesʼ, for instance, real and «fake» horns often play off each other, creating a wildly polyphonic, dense sound. Sometimes they go into overdrive: ʽDaddy's Carʼ plays out like a cross between some wild Latin dance and classic Stone Roses, with the addition of a wall of background harmonies and maniacal funky percussion. Sometimes you get echoes of Talking Heads and King Crimson (ʽMan Wakes Upʼ; the short instrumental ʽBrazil 3ʼ, whose throbbing electronic theme sounds like they're quoting the beginning to ʽBurning Down The Houseʼ). More often, though, they are being quiet, subtle, and vaguely creepy, with lulling sweet vocals over threatening bass lines — even if the absolute majority of the songs here are «beat-conscious», as they say.
Mostly, though, it's the hooks, and the almost unbelievable ease with which they produce an atmosphere of solemnity that is quite reminiscent of the glory days. Check ʽTo Us Allʼ — taking two minutes to build up some tension, then finally exploding in an anthemic vocal sermon, a prayer in the face of the whole universe, well represented by a few beautiful guitar and keyboard parts. The eerie ʽMother Of A Dogʼ is one of the best Radiohead songs that Radiohead never wrote (actually, there's quite a few of these, isn't there?), with so many peacefully conflicting overdubs in the background that you'd easily get lost if not for the "I was raised by the son of the mother of a dog, I was raised by the mother of a dog" mantra that glues it all together (and no, the verses will not make it any easier to understand what they mean — it is up to you, in this as well as all other cases, to come up with your own interpretation). Eventually, they just run out of words and either put their strength in simple vocalizing (ʽBig Band Songʼ) or dispense with vocals altogether (ʽCelebrationʼ), but the musical themes are sufficiently interesting and/or pretty to agree with that decision (although Hyde, who takes the lion's share of the vocals, is a fairly good singer).
Despite all the moments of darkness, though, Someday World is basically a happy, optimistic album — I mean, come to think of it, Eno never made a truly depressing record (although some of his ambient opera may come across as scary or alienating), and the older he gets, the more hopeful he seems to become of humanity as a whole (bless his trusting old heart). There is one song here on which they have the nerve to speak for God himself — ʽWhen I Built This Worldʼ — but despite all the unpleasant things the Lord says of us in an uncomfortably auto-tuned voice, and despite the upsettingly funky-paranoid interlude that immediately follows the declaration, the second part of the song sounds carnivalesque and oddly uplifting. Well, nice to know we don't have to expect the next great flood anytime soon.
I could probably live without the lengthy acoustic ballad that ends the album (and sounds like something Greg Lake might have contributed to an ELP record in one of his «I'm so romantic, I could just die» moments), but it has its legitimate place there — as a stripped-down, intimate coda to an overall «lush» experience — and if you couldn't quite guess the overall friendly and courteous mood of the album while the electronic pieces were playing, the coda lets you do this in «old school mode», so let it stay. On the whole, it's just nice to know that the man can still realize a visionary project like this — a little bit of complex intellectual naïveté never hurt anyone anyway; and since this is ultimately a modern pop album, not a confusedly ambient one, I have no difficulty giving it a major thumbs up.