"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Pitchfork JUNE 14, 2005 - by Mark Richardson
BRIAN ENO: ANOTHER DAY ON EARTH
In my mind Brian Eno's ambient music is completely separate from his vocal work - so much so that I can in hazier moments forget that one man was responsible for both Lantern Marsh and Third Uncle. It's not difficult to hear how Eno's ideas find their way into whatever he's working on, but when you're debating what to play it's always either "I'm in the mood for vocal Eno" or "I'm in the mood for ambient Eno." The twin box sets he released in the early '90s were split along the same line, so obviously the man himself draws a similar distinction.
Though he's steadily produced instrumental music over the past twenty years, Eno's only pop release during this time has been the 1990 collaboration with John Cale, Wrong Way Up. Good album, and it was particularly fun to hear him apply to his own music all the production tricks (bass guitar high in the mix, doubled, tripled, and quadrupled vocals, etc.) he'd been using with other bands over the previous decade. Now, fifteen years and a clutch of instrumental albums later, Eno returns to songs with Another Day On Earth. The record starts beautifully with This, a mantra-like melody with a vaguely West African rhythm that sounds very much along the lines of Wrong Way Up's Spinning Away. It's an ideal first song - catchy, relaxed, and expansive - with Eno in fine voice and multi-tracked to the point where it seems almost rude not to sing along. It's not a stage-setting opener, however, and as the album wears on it becomes clear that This is by far the best track.
One problem is that the sound on Another Day On Earth is lush to the point of distraction. It's almost as though Eno is hampered by his undeniable studio mastery - he knows how to make so many beautiful sounds it would be a shame not to include them. Though he has in the past relied on chance operations to give his music an unpredictable and organic quality ("Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention," reads one of his Oblique Strategy cards), Another Day On Earth is produced to within an inch of its life, with layers of intricate detail and the most ethereal synth washes imaginable.
Still, overproduced or not, there is pleasure in sitting back and letting Eno's sound wash over you. One highlight is How Many Worlds, which begins and with a simple acoustic guitar strum that Eno sings over and then adds is a plaintive string arrangement that weaves around wafts of electronic drone and builds to a powerful climax. The chord stabs on Going Unconscious (which is essentially instrumental, with bits of female vocals vaguely reminiscent of Laurie Anderson) remind me a lot of the palette from Thursday Afternoon, and the bells that tinkle throughout add an effective tension.
The melodies throughout Another Day On Earth are simple, which only occasionally works to the record's advantage. And Then So Clear is basic but true, though it will alienate some because Eno pitches his voice up an octave with what may be the same robotic AutoTune Cher used on Believe. Leaving aside for a moment my affection for Cher's biggest hit, Eno's choice of processing suits both his voice and the song, turning what could have been nothing more than new age drift into a moving and fragile robotic lullaby. As if to illustrate the point about the vocal processing, the later song Under has the exact same melody as And Then So Clear, this time sung by a small multi-tracked chorus of Enos, and it's not nearly as powerful.
This is the album's only track that isn't either a ballad or an amorphous moodscape that happens to have vocals. In terms of overall feel Another Day On Earth sounds like Eno's '90s ambient work bent slightly to fit into a song-oriented format. The dualistic vocal/ambient Eno filing scheme doesn't work with this one, which is refreshing in its way. But unfortunately Another Day On Earth is a decent album at best.