Assessing the legendary producer’s first vocal album in 17 years
In a famous interview, Talking Heads’ bassist Tina Weymouth talked in 1981 about how the band’s guiding light, David Byrne, had become infatuated with the musical interests of Brian Eno.
The band’s Eno-produced art-rock album, Remain in Light, had been a recent creative breakthrough and Byrne and Eno had gone on to release My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, for which they taped and repurposed the radio sermonizing of preachers.
“They’re like two 14-year-old boys making an impression on each other,” Weymouth said. Her take, at the time, came off like she was knocking the two for being immature boys. But with time, it sounds increasingly endearing. As she saw it, they were letting their enthusiasm for music, and for life, run rampant. Ah, sweet youth!
Artist: Brian Eno
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
That was decades ago. Now, Brian Eno has a new album, FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE (or FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE). It’s his first in six years and marks his return to making a record with songs that substantially feature his voice. (The last was 2005’s Another Day on Earth.) He produces and writes or co-writes everything here, quite an achievement. Oh, if only he could now somehow still be the life-enthused 14-year-old boy that Weymouth once imagined. Not for our sake, or for the quality of his art. But for his happiness. Alas, he now knows too much.
FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE is, first of all, a masterful and mature creative statement from Eno, one that should be heard and considered by an audience. He has explained in press notes that the album’s genesis is a 2021 concert that he and brother Roger gave at the Acropolis in Greece, while wildfires were burning outside the city. “I thought, here we are at the birthplace of Western civilization probably witnessing the end of it,” he said. (For that performance, he had written two songs that are included here — “There Were Bells” and “Garden of Stars.”)
That was not a lightning-bolt revelation for him. He’s long been concerned with how we can preserve and acknowledge the importance of earth and our place on it. In the mid-2000s, I attended a talk he gave in Los Angeles about the Clock of the Long Now, a project to build and store a clock at a place where it could safely, securely keep time for 10,000 years. And more recently, he’s participated in a Serpentine Galleries project called Back to Earth that prompts visual artists (Eno is one) to address climate change.
On this album, Eno comes off as a seer. He knows where we’re going, and it’s not good, and he can express his haunting visions in a sometimes-cryptically poetic — maybe even mystically religious — way.
Here’s an example, from “There Were Bells.” It begins with birds chirping and eventually Eno’s voice, surprisingly high and inviting, enters with such vulnerable clarity and sincerity that you can imagine him a choir boy. But could a choir sing these words?
There were bells above that rang the whole day through
And the sky was shot with light and gazing blue
Early days up with the sun, all the days turn into one
All the sirens beckoning the groove
There were horns as loud as war that tore apart the sky
There were storms and floods of blood of human life
Never mind, my love, let’s wait for the dawn
Fly back to tell us there is a haven showing night
There were those who ran away
There were those who had to stay
Let me in to your way, the segue
It’s abstract enough to make you work at its meaning, but the overall vibe is clear enough to make you shudder. While his words beckon, and sometimes beg for deciphering, his melodies carefully walk a tightrope between solemn melancholy and expansive uplift.
Yet, throughout the record, you can also be awed by the beauty of the music. There are so many gorgeous touches! “Garden of Stars” has droning strings, short stabs of electronic pings and has a clangorously climactic passage that’s a bit like the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” On “These Small Voices” (co-written with Jon Hopkins) Clodagh Simonds offers some dramatic, declarative singing that could be something from a Kurt Weill composition.
“We Let It In” starts with some noticeable breathing and Darla Eno, his daughter and co-writer, intoning the occasional words “deep” and “sun” while a female voice sometimes also beguiles the listener with tuneful wordless singing. But Eno’s words demand attention — I imagine the “it” to be the arriving doom of global warming, but I’m not sure:
The soul of it is running gay
With open arms through golden fields
And even though the corn is high
And sometimes harsh against the heels
We open to the blinding sky
And let it in, and let it in
With open hearts through burning fields
The soul of it in gorgeous flame
The whole of it in gorgeous flame
But at other times his voice falls into a very resonate, lower-register solemnity that is sorrowful but gripping, like Nick Cave on his great song “Hollywood,” which with its compassionate solemnity could fit in easily here.
VIDEO: Brian Eno “There Were Bells”
His pristine production, arrangements and use of sound can be modernist, but there is also his use of classically minimalist, trance-inducing droning. And his voice can also be digitally manipulated to give him an echoing effect. Were he ever to perform this live on tour, I’d expect to see the show in a museum, symphony orchestra hall, or at the Rothko Chapel. Overall, this is an album of art-songs by an assured composer.
I hope it achieves some measure of popularity. The world could use his contribution to spur the rising awareness over climate change. And it’s a grave message that he brings message. While he loves earth’s beauty, he worries that he — we — won’t be seeing it for long. Unless…