Stylus JUNE 6, 2005 - by Alfred Soto


Forget the pre-release publicity: Brian Eno has not issued his first vocal album in almost twenty years; he has released an ambient album with vocals. Perfunctory vocals too. If this is what His Eggheadedness considers singing these days he should return to the dilettantish pursuits on which a large percentage of his mystique is based: making perfume, delivering lectures on cybernetics, savoring the tangy pleasure of his own urine, that sort of thing.

It grieves me to report that Another Day On Earth is a failure. The fecund imagination once responsible for writing (and fucking with) some of the most wicked songs ever recorded has given us yet another long player of instrumental treacle. Impeccably recorded and lifeless, Another Day On Earth is a fitting companion to the albums of twittering ululations he called Music For Films and Music For Airports; call it Music For V.I.P. Lounges, since the only people who can stand this shit would probably pay fourteen bucks for a sour-apple martini. Its polar textures thousands of miles south of Another Green World's equatorial lushness, Another Day On Earth is more blank than frank, a journey through a hollow land, more discreet than it needs to be. Imagine a recording in which every human error has been scrubbed, like coffee grounds off a formica counter.

The pristine mix makes things worse. Earlier albums included vaporous tunelets like Spider And I, but you didn't mind because those recordings sounded attractively murky (this was made clear after their remix/re-release a couple of years ago); listening to the quiet moments was like staring at silt drift in a pond. Another Day On Earth is torpid; it's like oatmeal made with water instead of milk. Tracks like Long Way Down and Going Unconscious give away the game. Eno assumes he's plumbing depths or capturing pulses from the beyond, or something, when in fact he has neglected to generate beguiling surfaces.

This is precisely what's most depressing about Another Day On Earth: Eno confuses superficiality with surface. Years of extolling his "functional" ambient music have dulled the ironic twinkle with which Eno would deliver those kinds of howlers to awed reporters. Talk about an oblique strategy: if you remove the artist from the art, you get Another Day On Earth. Bottomliners rumbles expectantly, like a coffeemaker; Under resurrects the subterranean bass of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts; and that's it. Echoes and allusions - that's all Another Day On Earth transmits.

When Eno indentured himself to tweak former Roxy Music sparring partner Bryan Ferry's Mamouna and Frantic, we all assumed that Ferry, three or four solo albums into making out with his reflection, needed help, any help. But the piffle of Another Day On Earth suggests that Eno could use a welcome shot of Ferry's love-drug, the vulgarity which made those pre-Manifesto Roxy albums such crass fun. On his solo albums Ferry ordered his expensive hacks to play actual riffs; the tension between the band and Ferry's enervated voice was exquisite and infuriating. In the bug-in-amber world of Another Day On Earth, however, the listening experience is tenseful: waiting for Eno to lose the Cher vocoder on And Then So Clear, or hoping he'd come up with something more compelling to repeat than "just another day" on the song of the same name (this from a man who once wrote "If you study the logistics and heuristics of the mystics"?).

But then, before the yawns overcome you, there's How Many Worlds, a lullaby of unexpected pathos, buried in the middle of the album; when the lyrics disappear, allowing a string and synthesizer motif to lift the song heavenward, you remember what magnificent effects Eno wrought in the past with the crudest strategies. This, another minor success, assembles programmed skitters and his multi-tracked vocals in a shivery evocation of the imminence Eno's best work summons without strain. These songs however are mere blips. Another Day On Earth's pleasures are as mundane as its title suggests.