Beginning his solo career in the early 70s, Brian Eno revolutionised the way we think about sound and space; music that was as “noticeable as it is ignorable”. One only has to listen to ‘An Ending (Ascent)’ from 1983 album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, to understand why Eno sits firmly within the pantheon of immortal 20th century musicians. Over forty years since his first solo record, the elder statesmen of Ambient is continuing to challenge our minds with his new album; The Ship.
For a musician who’s music usually dwells within a fog of enigma, Eno thrusts tangibility into our hands with an album that gleams with sincerity and tangible meaning. An online statement made on the album’s release, discusses the idea that; “Humankind seems to teeter between hubris and paranoia: the hubris of our ever-growing power contrasts with the paranoia that we’re permanently and increasingly under threat”. Although not the first time he has done so, the other major surprise of this record is the presence of Eno as a vocalist throughout.
The intensely cultural sentiment of this album begins with the 20 minute ‘epic’ ‘The Ship’, a track themed around the sinking of the Titanic. “The Titanic was the Unsinkable Ship, the apex of human technical power, set to be Man’s greatest triumph over nature” Eno describes on his website. However, this track in particular embodies the album’s shortcomings. While poignant in it’s sentiment, this track falls down the slippery slope into which all music ambient should be afraid of; monotony. The track’s soundscaping fails to set a potent enough atmosphere to warrant the track’s emotional sentiment, with many of the synthesiser sounds on this track sounding surprisingly dated. On top of this, Eno’s very low vocals seem to lack confidence and their seemingly endless repetitions become somewhat dull.
The album’s second track ‘Fickle Sun (i)’ is far less disappointing; an aurora of shimmers, white noise and ghostly voices. This time, Eno’s vocal performance is far more poignant, dealing with the dark subject of the First World War. “The men will turn to clay”, Eno sings in a folk-inspired tone, before the track takes a turn into a pit of darkness. A creeping string quartet and the distant cry of a marching band, swirl amongst a sharp invasion of radio interference and menacing robotic voices. The second part of the track, ‘Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour Is Thin’, continues the story, as an unnerving computerised narrator sets the chilling scene of naive young men in 1914, marching into a war which embodied horror itself.
Eno ‘left hooks’ us with the album’s closer ‘Fickle Sun (iii) I’m Set Free’, a cover of the Velvet Underground. Surprisingly, this track doesn’t feel out of place, ending the album with a sense of angelic optimism, with Eno doing a very convincing impression of Lou Reed. While a somewhat inconsistent record, Eno’s sincerity and ambition is applaudable. The Ship is a worthy chapter in his continuing journey.
The Ship is out now on Warp Records.