The 405 NOVEMBER 9, 2012 - by Tom Baker


He's a clever sod, that Brian Eno. I'm not referring to any of his musical achievements, of which there are many. No, I'm talking about the way he helped form the idea of ambient music in such a way that it defies reviewing. As he wrote in the liner notes to 1978's Music For Airports, it must be "able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." So: if I find Lux his most recent ambient work, to be interesting, he's succeeded. If it's dull as dishwater, he's still won. If this were a casino, I'd have my cronies fling him out for fixing the game. But this isn't Las Vegas, and I don't have Joe Pesci for a pint-sized enforcer, so I'm going to try my level best to review this album.

Lux was intended to be listened to whilst viewing works in the Great Gallery of the Palace of Venaria in Turin, Italy. Now, I've never been to the Palace of Venaria, but I have been to the Tate Modern during half-term, and I can imagine this music would have been even more welcome there. Like Music For Airports, Eno's first listed ambient work, Lux is about space. Long, lingering gaps stretch out before you between each the pressing of each piano key, the decaying note slowly fading like ripples on a pond. A string note is played, held, and fades out from the piece as slowly as it entered, like a nervous, quiet guest at a party cautiously retreating from a room once they've stayed long enough not to look rude. It's very relaxing.

Ambient music can be "actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener," and Lux is no exception, for the most part. But it's hard not to let yourself be taken by the hand - rather than grabbed by the collar - and lead through the warm, organic sounds as they slowly develop and grow, as natural-sounding and impressionistic as the painting of a tree on the album's front cover.

The problem in "judging" this album - assigning it a score and all that malarkey - is that it's difficult to identify what merits to judge it on. How does it fit into Eno's not-inconsiderable back catalogue of ambient records? It's certainly less reliant on synthesisers than the four numbered Ambient works, and more organic than Discreet Music and, unlike many of his albums of 'furniture music', wasn't created in conjunction with former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp.

If ambient music is designed to "modify one's perception of a surrounding environment," Lux is an unqualified success - listening to it this morning made the rays of sun coming through the faulty blinds of my friend's spare room a thing of beauty, rather than annoyance - but that was just for me. Whether this album succeeds or not, is effective or not, depends on the listener. Ambient music, more than perhaps any other, is a highly subjective genre. So, why write a review of it? Well, why did you read a review of it?