Playback St. Louis JULY 2005 - by Kevin Renick


Brian Peter George St. John the Baptist de la Salle Eno. Founding member of the influential Roxy Music. Producer/collaborator on legendary works by David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2, and many others. Godfather of ambient music, a genre that's had an impact on almost every other genre. Member of various global think tanks. Spokesman for erasing the line between high art and low art and increasing cultural self-awareness. Witty and articulate lecturer/commentator on virtually any topic, earning him the nickname Prof. Eno. Member of the Long Now Foundation to encourage long-term thinking about the future of civilization.

Talk about having nothing to prove! When you're in Eno's position of being one of the most sought-after artists/thinkers in the world, what do you do when you've seemingly done everything, and it's time to make a new record? Simple: You continue to make atmospheric, cutting-edge music. And secondly, you delve into an area you personally find challenging. For Eno, that means writing actual songs with lyrics - something he does for the first time in fifteen years on Another Day On Earth (last time was 1990's John Cale collaboration Wrong Way Up). So expectations can't help but be high.

The only ones who might be disappointed are those who hoped Eno would rock out with the idiot energy (his own phrase) he displayed on discs like Before And After Science. Another Day is still very much in Eno's ambient continuum, with gorgeous, layered soundscapes, but with vocals shifting the focus. This is soft-rock that brings back good memories, with Eno chirping merrily over an easy rhythm while effects swirl behind him. This race this world / This feeling this girl / This ripple this fire / I'll hold it up higher, higher, he sings, almost like one of those regular singer-songwriter types. But And Then So Clear quickly departs for odder pastures; Eno pitch-shifts the vocal so it's high and delicate, emotional but genderless (as he apparently intended). That nutty professor! Well, he succeeds, and it's a beaut.

Both A Long Way Down and Going Unconscious are essentially lush ambient pieces with unobtrusive voices. The real highlights here include Caught Between, which employs melodic vocals and beautiful piano (and Leo Abrahams' cool guitar), the melancholy and evocative Passing Over, and the delightful How Many Worlds, one of the most straightforward and childlike tunes Eno's ever written. How many people will we feed today / How many lips will we kiss today / If we wake up, it goes, Eno clearly at his most engaging. The exquisite violin playing by Nell Catchpole elevates the song to a transcendent level. Under is a cool, psychedelic song from the unreleased My Squelchy Life. And Bone Bomb is an eerie, unsettling closer about suicide bombers (the title refers to pieces of bone being weaponized at the moment of death). It features a mesmerizing musical pulse and the memorably detached female voice of Aylie Cooke. Grim but undeniably compelling, it shows that Eno always has multiple things on his mind.

Another Day On Earth isn't a huge stylistic leap for Brian Eno, but it's thoroughly listenable and intriguing - showcasing a looser, more playful side of one of our most pioneering and influential artists.