Brian Eno – Music for Films / The Ship

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CapnMarvel’s reviews of Brian Eno’s albums are usually funny, and his review of Music for Films is no exception, in addition to hitting the nail on the head: “One of Eno’s better pure ambient records, mostly because […] the songs last less time than it takes to run the dishwasher. Plus, at least in most instances, Music for Films is, shockingly enough, more interesting than listening to the dishwasher. Brian being the classic Jonathan Winters-esque wit that he is, these ‘films’ he’s talking about don’t exist. Brian just dreamt some up scenes on his lonesome, and put down some music that, as far as we know, match the action allegedly on the screen. But wouldn’t ya know it…Brian didn’t think up any car chases, or sex scenes, or parts where guys sitting in a room next to each other strain and grunt and shake until one of their heads blows up in a big cloud of atomized, pinky brain guts. Nope, Eno’s a Yurrupian, and his movies are about fucking glaciers and leaves turning brown and other highly action-deprived shit like that. Fuck, man…four years before and he’s singing about murderous rampages, and now he’s making tone poems about tapioca pudding. […] Ya can’t fucking do it. The days of ‘Little Fishes’ and ‘Sombre Lizards’ are over, lads and lassies, and the days of Brian Eno fucking about on his ever-less-interesting palate of synthtones has come.”

I’m not so harsh because a) at worst, this album’s a waft and b) he’s trying harder than ever on Music for Films than he has on Discreet Music and Music for Airports or ever will again on any forthcoming ambient albums. Not only are there some real heavy hitters here like Phil Collins and Robert Fripp and John Cale, and the task of creating 18 distinct pieces is inherently more challenging than creating two (on Discreet) or creating four (on Music for Airports). The problem is, he doesn’t create 18 distinct pieces – he creates about half of them; the keyboard over synth backdrop of “Slow Water” that recalls and looks forward to his collaborations with Harold Budd; the Satie-esque “Sparrowfall (1)”; the synth melody of “Sparrowfall (2)”; combining those two pieces into one on “Sparrowfall (3)”; John Cale’s treated viola on “Patrolling Wire Borders”; the coda of “Final Sunset” (though the rest of the song is useless). And “M836” – what a false start, located near the back-end of my issue – is vaguely interesting because it’s a complete mood shift, although Brian Eno’s attempts at industrial never strike pay dirt (see: the useless Small Craft on a Milk Sea).

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His most ambitious album since, well, since his last one (High Life, with Karl Hyde, which was his best album in decades), and a welcome change since I’ve long accused Brian Eno’s ambient albums like Discreet Music and Thursday Morning as lazy. Ambitious, from the symphonic reach of the climax of “Fickle Sun (i)”, or the mere prospect of directing formless sounds (ie. the indiscernible fragments of vocals in the conclusion of the title track or the digitized David Sylvian pastiches in the conclusion of “Fickle Sun (i)”) into a cohesive narrative; my favorite moment is when the Markov chain generator gives them a lucky break with “The universe is required; notify the sun” and then a warm cover of the warmest Velvet Underground album comes striking through.

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