Another Day on Earth – Brian Eno
Given his nearly unparalleled ability to illuminate the ordinary miracles of sound, it's no great surprise that ambient pioneer Brian Eno has always described himself as a "non-musician." Anchored in his frightening sense of sonic detail and his brilliant re-interpretation of pop forms, Another Day on Earth, his first solo vocal album in fifteen years, reaffirms his status as our preeminent sound sculptor, an explosion of existential joy expressed as much through its absolute sense of clarity as it is through the captivating insularity of its surrealist universe.
In general, the album thrives largely in retaining the best features of his previous masterpieces. As in Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), the sounds of doo-wop and rock and roll that captivated Eno as a child are obliterated and reassembled into his ability to inject his avant-garde leanings into those popular structures (or, for that matter, vice versa), detailing and texturing them into atmospheric wonders. As in Another Green World, the truly fractal-like detail of Eno’s soundscapes (in which an attempt to hone in on one element only seems to unfold into the kaleidoscopic depth of the entire portrait) suggests a level of careful planning which is entirely beset by the feeling of serendipity that pervades them.
There is a kind of Blakean paradox about Eno's music, in that there is infinite space, yet that space comes entirely out of a feeling of sensory specificity. The worlds that he creates in his compositions are built on possibility, in that idea of what lies sonically on the other end of the rabbit hole. In those self-contained realities, it's often the smallest entry point that contains the most captivating rewards, and the invitation to seek them out places a wonderful kind of responsibility on the listener.
The beautiful "And Then So Clear" emerges in a fluttering metallic mist, broken through by a breathtakingly empyreal melody wrapped in a blanket of robotic distortion — as if to disallow it from existing as a purely pop-derived line. The introductory "This" cleaves deepest into Eno's magical sonic realism, where shimmering optimistic vocals vibrate within a storm of jittery guitar lines, fluid ambience, discordant voices and industrial embroidery, advocating a kind of sanctity in what we see as banal.
Eno is so deft at capturing the warmth and absolute singularity of naturalistic sound in a studio context that his work often tends to establish a kind of blurred state between nature and artifice, obscuring the paranoia of technology by welding it to a human heart. Surrounded by the sonic conjury of Eno's hyper-textured composition, "Going Unconscious" finds the grating buzz of an alarm clock molded into something elegant, an almost seductive central pulse around which waves of ambience swoop and crash. The haunting "Passing Over" features Eno's chanting vocals floating through a nebulous fog of frigid pulses, cycling cymbals and jazz piano, before a harshly mechanical voice emerges to lament "what cannot be recollected".
Eno's delivery, for it's own part (even beyond the android effect implemented in "And then So Clear"), conjures up the same dichotomy of metal and flesh, welding a choir boy purity to an almost robotic, slightly beleaguered restraint. Yet despite the strange brand of modern death that seems to be perpetually eating at their seams, Eno's vocals maintain an innocence that propels beautiful melodies through the bustling chaos of his compositions as orphan children stumbling unnoticed through a crowded city street. Ultimately, it's that unwavering balance between disillusionment and faith that makes his music so moving. Who else but Eno, after all, could write as biting a lamentation about greed, violence and the global marketplace as "Bottomliners" and sing it as a lilting lullaby hymn, allowing even our own socio-cultural damnation a bit of grace.
"And in the future," Eno sings coyly, "new forms of romance/ Grenade and landmine in twilit silence/ With hands that tremble, with hearts that flounder/all bottomliners, all undergrounders."
Ultimately, the album reassures us of what we already knew, that Eno is a master craftsman, possessed of a rare sonic genius and a keen sense of tragedy made bearable by his empathy and wit. It's impressive that our greatest non-musician has emerged back into focus with his tools intact, but more so, in these bottom-line times, that he's managed to retain his soul as well.