The Stranger MAY 18, 2016 - by Dave Segal


Brian Eno couldn't have made a better farewell album than The Ship (whether it's a farewell or not)

The Ship has an air of valedictory finality about it. After a forty-three-year solo career of innovating and inspiring countless musicians with his ingeniously eccentric rock songs, multicultural sampledelia (see My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, recorded with David Byrne), and ambient recordings, Brian Eno, one senses, has done all the Eno-ing an Eno can do.


He may be living comfortably thanks to lucrative production work with totemic bland-rock bands U2 and Coldplay, but this sonic philosopher is not going complacently into his sunset years, as The Ship decisively proves. Eno may not have any more King's Lead Hats, Third Uncles, or Fractal Zooms in him, but he still has some creative juice left at age sixty-seven.

The Ship's twenty-one-minute title track is a graceful dirge with long, arcing synth drones spanning the high and low ends with methodical mournfulness. It almost sounds like one of those famous rock or pop songs slowed down by two-hundred-percent; toward that end, Eno's voice sounds like it's pitched down to -8, to lend even more gravitas to the piece. Behind the grandiose fog of synths and lugubrious atmospheres, there lurks a gorgeous melody, shimmering mirage-like in the distance.

There are also some sick bass drops, bro, but they fall with the slow-motion force of profound, world-historical sadness. Shortwave-radio chatter, sonar bleeps, and mysterious warped voices seep into the sound field, too. Near the end, a narcotized individual intones, "Wave after wave after wave after wave..." This is the song you want to play to end your party - hell, to end all parties, forever. This ain't no foolin' around, as his buddy Byrne once put it.

Fickle Sun (i) runs eighteen minutes, and it marks the first appearance of beats... or are they just more percussive bass drops? The sounds become more disturbing and doleful, accentuated by what could be Buddhist monk chants. Seven minutes in, the rhythms get relatively urgent and heavy and an almost Laibach-like ominousness overtakes everything. The lyrics touch on unspeakable horrors: "When I was a young soldier / I turned my eyes directly to the sun / To burn off what I had seen / To melt away what I had been / To be recast as something new." Toward the end, the track broods with some of the heaviest orchestral dissonance ever heard on an Eno recording.

A respite of sorts comes from Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour Is Thin, which finds British actor Peter Serafinowicz reciting words derived from pornographic songs sung by World War I soldiers, as well as firsthand accounts of the Titanic sinking and the London Blitz. The resonant gravity of his delivery contrasts handsomely with the pensive, pretty piano motif tintinnabulating in the background. (In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Eno said that he views these events as examples of "the collision of... technological and political hubris.")

The Ship climaxes with Fickle Sun (iii) I'm Set Free, a reimagining of Lou Reed's placid, pellucid song from The Velvet Underground's eponymous third album. The original is sparse jangle rock with rudimentary tom-tom beats and judiciously deployed backing vocals. Eno's cover swells and ebbs like a nonchalant, secular gospel ballad, and he sings the familiar tune as if it were a hymn, his voice perfectly poised between hope and resignation. (Sadly, the original's mellifluous, muted guitar solo is excised.) Eno's version sparkles with a spectral haze and floats toward the vanishing point with tranquil, orchestral grandeur.

Honestly, it's hard to imagine a more dignified way to end a recording career. But one suspects Eno still has yet more to say - and plenty of different, eloquent ways to say it.