Record Collector SEPTEMBER 2005 - by Mark Prendergast


Actual new product from the king of the reissue...

It came as a shock when I read somewhere that Another Day On Earth was Brian Eno's first pop record of songs in nearly three decades. You can hear Eno singing backing vocals on late 1970s David Bowie records, notably on the smash hit Sound And Vision. He's sung on Talking Heads and U2 records and with Germans such as Cluster. Back in the early 1990s, he made a vocal record with John Cale titled Wrong Way Up but amid bell studies, various ambient excursions such as Neroli, and albums with Jah Wobble and Peter Schwalm (2001's excellent Drawn From Life), we have almost forgotten that Eno is a craftsman when it comes to vocal albums.

Four years in the making, a quick look of the sleeve-notes confirm a handy litany of collaborators. Leo Abrahams plays guitar as does Steve Jones, Peter Schwalm fiddles with drum loops while Robert Wyatt, Clodagh Simonds, Markus Dravs, Robert Fripp, Annie Lennox and many others have directed and advised.

Eno's starting point for a new vocal album was that he realised that technology had made it easier and easier to make ambient music. He himself was part and parcel of this process when he brought in the idea of self-generating music software during the 1990s. For Another Day On Earth, Eno went back to his most famous vocal album, 1975's Another Green World.

This record is full of substance. As Eno himself says: A lot of the songs ask the question of how much time do we have left, what are we doing with that time and how many ways could we think of spending it. A lot of the ideas concern a man in his late fifties still alive and wondering how much longer he'll be alive.

But don't worry. This is no downer. Opener This has a fabulously deep well of a bottom, a percussive edge played off lovingly against Leo Abrahams' guitars and with the sharp outer-space synth treatments we've come to love from Eno. And on And Then So Clear, an atmosphere which harks back to the spartan shards of guitar The Edge used on The Joshua Tree, Eno jumps his voice by an octave to sound like an old frail counter-tenor. Going Unconscious sounds like Eno en route to Alpha Centauri, its 'pulse loop' spaceship accompanied by the exotic voice of Inge Zalaliene. How Many Worlds has that kind of nursery-rhyme sensibility that informed I'll Come Running from Another Green World but is more weighty in intent and comes with a fulsome string arrangement by Nell Catchpole.

The only reason this album doesn't get five stars is the lack of rockers. The title track has the fabulous 'shimmer' that could have easily wedged on a U2 album and as the record plays I realise that Eno still has the ability and the confidence to make us listen. And that's something for a man who is fifty-seven years old.


On releasing an album in the iPod era...

You assume, when you are making a CD, that people are going to probably listen to it from beginning to end. And we, as music producers, have always tried to mix listening to lots of different systems (a car radio or a twenty-thousand dollar hi-fi) so that we can get the best compromise between those different systems. But what we haven't got used to is the idea that a song might end up being right next to a Status Quo song on one side and a Public Enemy song on the other!

On finishing the album after such a long time...

It was done when I reached the deadline. One of my favourite songs never made it because it just wasn't done on time. I felt that if I was reaching a point where I wasn't able to hear something as a song but as a bunch of details then I should stop working on it. And that's what I did.

On 'old recording'...

The voice is almost the last bastion of old recording in what people really appreciate is very faithful voice recordings. Nothing else is faithful now - drums are processed and re-processed, everything else has a huge range over which it can roam. But a voice is still expected to be a voice. It's like having a beautiful romantic film with a lead actor as a robot. People want a lead actor they can empathise with. I'm just as happy if that figure is as fictional as the rest of the landscape.

On songs...

people might have trouble with certain songs because they have a very unusual structure or vocals which don't quite slot into the music in a calculated way. In a way, they are liberating because it offers new territory. And songwriters are always looking for somewhere else to go.

On lyrics...

I don't think it's a question of that old idea that singers have something to say. I think that very few of them do. It's a question of mood and I think they have something to do, they want to do something and they want to do something to you. So what words can we use that will do that to you?

On the title...

The album was finished when I finally realised what the title of the album should be. The Saturday I got back from a trip to China I randomly opened up a picture I'd taken in a market and I thought, another day on Earth, which is the title of one of the songs. The picture was commonplace but beautiful too.

On the future...

I'm about sixty percent of the way through life now and after fifty-seven years of practice I'm really good.