Brian Eno Brian EnoSmall Craft On A Milk Sea
Brian Eno, the artist, was long ago devoured by Brian Eno, the legend. In the midst of all of this cannibalistic frenzy, the remains, the bones of Brian Eno, the man, remain –short, shiningly bald, a perfectly-modulated voice, elegantly dressed in black Armani. He is still active, participating in conferences, contributing ideas to other people’s albums, developing the occasional multimedia project, always in the shadow of his own personal legend. Because Brian Eno will always be who he was in the 70’s and 80’s, the incombustible creator who, beginning with the modest distancing of his own solo work or collaborations— “I am a non-musician” was his great slogan—gave ambient it’s own arguments, developed the concept of fourth-world, and re-launched scenes like that of no wave, art-pop, and soundtracks (imaginary or existing ones). A historical review of his solo career indicates that, in spite of the intrigues of his many detractors (generally within the avant-garde of sound and the visual arts), Eno belongs to the category of genius. Perhaps he was an involuntary genius—anything is possible—but between “Here Come the Warm Jets” (1973) and “Music for Films III” (1993) there is an overwhelming array of masterpieces in very different fields. There is also the occasional minor album, doubtful collaboration, and unnecessary compilations, but not even the other remaining 50% of his artistic career –much more minor in comparison– can erase Eno’s mark and his prestige.
Therefore, Eno’s new album deserves to be listened to, attended to, and judged accordingly. The problem with Eno has always been that from the 90’s on –basically since he reviewed the best of his career in the indispensable boxes “I: Instrumental” and “II: Vocal,” both from 1993 and both with three CD’s each– the quality of his work has taken a nosedive. “Spinner” (with Jah Wobble) or “The Drop” are very minor albums in comparison with “Discreet Music” or “Another Green World”, and this decline has lasted since then, relieved only by specific actions such as his participation with U2 in the project Passengers, which started the fashion of the imaginary soundtrack, or the production of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”. Now, Eno is once again current, because his ambient legacy has been reborn in a new generation of authors who are simultaneously stepping on electronic and neo-classical ground—but here we’re talking about Eno the legend, not Eno the man, or Eno the artist– and especially because Warp has put out this “Small Craft on a Milk Sea”, about which nothing was known at first, and which has aroused so much curiosity. Basically, there was a doubt whether Eno would be worthy of Warp, or vice versa, and whether this album would be what many Eno-headz had been waiting for, for such a long time. Previous warning necessary: trusting in this resurrection of Eno the artist from Eno the legend is always risky and may lead to disappointments. But if you listened carefully to his album with David Byrne in 2008 ( “Everything that Happens Will Happen Today”), you could already tell that Eno’s second youth was a distinct possibility. That album was based on songs of Eno’s that Byrne helped to complete, and not the other way around, a sign that inspiration was returning (and why not?).
“Small Craft on a Milk Sea” is, above all, an inspired album. It’s that good album that he was requested. It isn’t a great album, not an album that will radically change the music scene—let’s be realistic—but it is an album by Eno the artist that is up to the standard of Eno the legend. It’s hard to say to what extent the influence of his two collaborators on the LP, Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams, is decisive or not, whether it’s an album that Eno made with two people, or an album that two people made with Eno. But what you hear in “Small Craft…” is pure Eno, both in the ambiental and the noise sections. It’s a bipolar album, because it goes from the tame end to a pure chaos of guitars and machines, but the good thing is that it divides that bipolar quality into three ironclad blocks that never mix together. It is, excuse the comparison, a “sandwich album” that starts out ethereal, then comes to a boil, with chaos, and then ends ambiental again. The thread linking the ends consists of the project’s cinematic intention: music that goes along with (mental) images, whether they are celestial visions or chase scenes, gloomy images or violent comics—it doesn’t matter. In this, the album is 100% Eno: that start with “Emerald and Lime”, recovered in the end with “Emerald and Stone”, is 70’s Eno, the one from “Ambient 1. Music for Airports”, and this primitive Eno is followed by other Enos that are known, but which haven’t been brought back for a long time. There is the abrupt Eno of the project Passengers ( “Dust Shuffle”), that of anarchic tribalism ( “Paleosonic” seems like a song by The Residents), the one that inspired the clear Badalamenti ( “Complex Heaven”), the paradisiacal one of “An Ending (Ascent)” in pieces like “Lesser Heaven”, and later an isolationist, cold, calculating Eno, which is manifested towards the end in parts like “Calcium Needles”, “Slow Ice, Old Moon” or “Written, Forgotten”. Many Enos in one, like the worlds in the world, even an unnecessary techno moment ( “Flint March”). All of these worlds, or these Enos, are the ones summed up in the final eight minutes of “Late Anthropocene”, a convincing conclusion that leads to an idea that I think is fair: this is the best Brian Eno in a long time, and although it won’t change the scene now (who can?), it’s nice to know that he still feels like changing himself and being who he was. To once again be Eno, the artist, over and above Eno, the legend.