Release Date: Apr 29, 2016
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
“Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting”. This quote by Brian Eno closed the album notes to Music For Airports, his 1978 album that was to define all of his future music. The Ship, however, is quite far removed from such sentiments, being a startlingly different piece of work that demands close, unswerving attention.
The Ship breaks subtle ground by further fractalizing Brian Eno’s creative processes, taking two of his essential forms and blending them methodically into a new kind of strange pop. Between his ambient albums and his pop-centered releases, the ones that engage you with lyrical narrative and the ones that disengage with the listener’s focus for other aims, there’s often a clear divide of intent. The Ship is immediately notable in how it splits the difference right along the middle, applying a theatric, focused arc to its sequencing and utilizing both ambient portions symbolically and pop conventions structurally to make a multi-layered commentary piece.
“We’re always one step behind him/ he’s Brian Eno" sang MGMT on their 2010 Congratulations album, and rightly so. Longeivity in the music industry comes with many perks – most appealing is the right to don a royal 'no fucks given' robe. But to claim that Eno has always practiced this philosophy would be a severe understatement. Perhaps the most absorbing aspect of his career is that his work never comes off like a desperate attempt to keep his name relevant.
When it was announced in 2010 that Brian Eno had signed to Warp Records, more than a few eyebrows arched. While Eno is synonymous with adventurous, intellectually curious (and rigorous) music—whether rock, electronic or otherwise—his work of the past 20 years had trended towards the mild rather than the provocative. At that time, Warp had already embraced things other than electronic music, be it Grizzly Bear or Maxïmo Park, and their defining act Aphex Twin was still in the wilderness.
An ambient long-form piece composed for a sound installation by an art-rock veteran well beyond the need to prove anything to anyone, The Ship couldn't possibly inspire less urgency. It doesn't help that Brian Eno has pitched the project as a meditative reckoning with the “hubris and paranoia” of “humankind,” the kind of impossibly broad scope that summons nothing so much as painfully earnest new-age indulgence. Yet here it is, and it's a stealth tour de force, philosophizing savvily, coalescing the full range of the artist's solo output into easily the most meticulously structured album he's put out in years.
By contrast, "Fickle Sun" begins dramatically. The first section, over 18 minutes, reflects on the "hubris and arrogance" of WWI. Swirling, nightmarish sine pulses, blurry vocals, and colliding keyboards create a dissonant, near-gothic drone. Eno's chant-like monotone delivery recalls Nico's doomsday singing.
There aren't many artists who, with 40-plus years of record-making under their belts, still see each record as a way to challenge their own paradigms with something new and different. For Brian Eno, however, this kind of challenge is core to his identity as a musician. The Ship, Eno’s newest release and his sixth on Warp, somehow manages to feel distinct from all the work he’s done.
Lauded almost to the point of mythos, Brian Eno’s status as a paragon of modern music is derived largely from his unimpeachable production work as well as his time as a member of art rock innovators Roxy Music. With a resume including names like Talking Heads, Devo, Slowdive, U2, David Bowie, and, more recently, James Blake, Eno’s touch bears the distinction of somehow being both recognizable yet unique from project to project. Recent years have seen Eno’s prolific yet long-overlooked solo work earn its just due, his last solo effort, 2010’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea, offering a broad scope of what he’d always been capable of on either side of the studio glass.
For more than four decades, beginning with 1975’s Discreet Music, Brian Eno's solo works have presented a universe of sound frozen in slow motion, melting to reveal and revel in new layers of dreamlike impressions. Eno redefined minimalism with his 1978 LP Ambient 1: Music for Airports and on nearly two-dozen solo offerings that followed. His latest, The Ship, is a variation on the typical Eno theme, the next warm period in his glacial unthawing, and it's one of his more interesting works.
There's no denying that Brian Eno is a brilliant musician, but he's no poet. Someone should've informed the esteemed composer and producer of that sad fact before he penned the laughable lyrics for "Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour Is Thin," the third track on his new album, The Ship. On it he sings: "The phoenix broods serene above the tower of time / The universe is required, please notify the sun."Such pretentiousness distracts from the unsurprisingly sterling music (this is the man that helped build the soundscape for Bowie's timeless Berlin Trilogy, after all).
In his sleeve notes to 1978’s Music for Airports, Brian Eno wrote that ambient music “must be as ignorable as it is interesting”. That is true of The Ship, his first solo album in four years, which is inspired by the sinking of the Titanic and comprises two epic songs, one of which, Fickle Sun, is a three-movement piece featuring the comedian Peter Serafinowicz. The opener, the title track, is eerie and portentous, Eno’s impossibly deep spoken vocal perched atop synth washes that slowly unfurl.
Brian Eno's intentions will never cease to be helplessly rooted in discovery. Strikingly modest for a man with such colossal cultural impact and a production résumé boasting John Cage, David Bowie, and John Cale to name a few, Eno is unrivaled in his influence on the dynamics of modern electronic music. He's synonymous with the creation of ambient, and his quietest works are often his best, expect for perhaps the scathing art-rock flair of his debut solo record Here Come the Warm Jets.
Anyone familiar with the work of all-round sonic mad scientist Brian Eno will know that he’s not a man for a throwaway three-minute pop song. He’s someone that revels in creating something unique and wondrous, taking his listener on a transformative sonic journey. The fantastic voyage of ‘The Ship’, his first solo album since 2012’s acclaimed ‘Lux’, is another musical adventure that fascinates, disconcerts and illuminates in equal measure.
Brian Eno’s 25th solo album arrives trailed by a very Enoesque explanation. The latter takes in the sinking of the Titanic, the first world war, the Velvet Underground’s third album, an installation in a Copenhagen gallery, Israeli history professor Yuval Harari’s acclaimed bestseller Sapiens: A History of Humankind, and the effect of the ageing process on Eno’s voice. It’s fascinating stuff, and well worth your time, but if you’re in a terrible hurry, the most salient points are: (a) his belief that “humankind seems to teeter between hubris and paranoia – the hubris of our ever-growing power contrasts with the paranoia that we’re increasingly under threat”; and, more prosaically, (b) somewhere along the way, he decided to try to write songs that were uncoupled from rhythm and standard verse-chorus structure.
Review Summary: Not fit for water.It’s awkward to review an album like The Ship. For one, should it be a music or an art review? Because the album's as much a conceptual exploration as a musical one and it would be quite easy to churn out 500 words without ever once mentioning how it sounds. Alternatively, it would be too easy to reduce this review to one of Brian Eno in general, in which case we could forget about the rest, insert an anecdote about him “reclaiming” Duchamp’s fountain and hey presto – five stars! Or we could keep this is mind, not think much of the album, and end up uncomfortable in our disappointment.
At the age of 67, and with one of the most accomplished careers in modern music behind him, Brian Eno would have every right to rest on his laurels and spend the rest of his career producing Coldplay albums and earning big paychecks. Lucky for us, he has the type of brain that simply cannot be turned off, and even after decades of unbridled creativity, Eno is still pushing boundaries and making innovative music. This holds true for his latest work, The Ship, which can hold its own among the very best in a career full of brilliant work.
Simply stated, here’s the experimental-listening event of the year: an album that demands you clear your schedule, turn off your phone, and devote your attention to the sounds coming out of your speakers. In the nearly five decades since he infiltrated the music scene with Roxy Music, Eno has continually pushed the envelope: twisting glam into bizarre new shapes on his classic ’70s LPs, bringing high-concept minimalism to new audiences with his Ambient series, producing some of the most beloved rock records of all time with U2 and Talking Heads. “The Ship” continues that arc, melding avant-electronic mastery with cosmic meditations and combining sonic and literary narratives to create a unique, entrancing emotional universe.
"The Ship" continues Brian Eno's recent creative run and is something of a soundtrack to the sinking of the Titanic and World War I. "The Ship" continues Brian Eno's recent creative run and is something of a soundtrack to the sinking of the Titanic and World War I. Brian Eno is perhaps best known as producer to the stars (U2, Coldplay, David Bowie, Talking Heads).
Brian Eno has spent his career redefining the fringes of pop, electronic, and experimental music. And where else can a man who has taken us everywhere – from Berlin to the bush of ghosts, from Joshua Tree to airport terminals – possibly lead us next? On Eno’s new album, The Ship, he captures the desolate sound of sinking twenty thousand leagues under the sea, and leaves us stranded on a desolated sonic island with only an illusory hope for rescue or return. The 47-minute record is comprised of two lengthy tone-poems, the title track and "Fickle Sun".
When listening to old Brian Eno interviews, I found this 2009 exchange with writer Andrew Frost: Part of me hears that exchange and thinks, “Yeah! You go, Eno! Stand up for taking your craft seriously!” Wonderful man, Eno. An articulate intellectual with a beautiful, resonant voice (in speaking as well as singing), and with more than enough weight behind him to lend those statements gravity, because this guy might well go down in the history books as the most important pop musician of the 1970s. I know nobody clicking on a Brian Eno review needs it reiterated just how unheralded his influence remains, but the advancements he made in terms of pop song formula (gradually repeating the same thing over and over again, adding more and more instruments until the song becomes a mass of sound by the end) as well as in sheer tone color (creating new and often highly evocative effects with modern recording technology and electric instruments) are precisely what allow him to go on making statements like the one in that Frost interview, which would get jeers and eye-rolls from anyone else.