I don’t think there’s ever been an artist as universally respected, as inimitable and as forward thinking as Brian Eno. This is the man who “invented” ambient music. This is the guy who issued a “fuck you” to his former bandmates by releasing an album every bit as good, or better, than theirs. This is the guy who made the skullet fashionable. He’s produced everyone from Talking Heads to Devo, collaborated with David Bowie and John Cale and David Byrne. Then there’s the album he did with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. And what’s more, he’s one of few artists that has managed to stay cool during his fifth decade of life. Still, it has been a while since he released an album that one would consider “essential,” even if his output has been good to excellent, pretty steadily. Yet, lately, he’s spent more of his time as an activist, speaking out against the war in Iraq and the military propaganda machine. And hell, even when he’s just speaking his mind the man is eloquent and artistic.
For those simply not content with hearing Eno speak about the state of current affairs, however, there is good news. He is back with an album bearing his name, and his name only (despite several contributions from other artists), titled Another Day on Earth. What’s interesting about this album, however, is that Eno seems to be veering back toward more traditional pop song structures. Not entirely — he’s still the #1 name in ambient, mind you — but this record actually features vocals in most, if not all, of the tracks. In fact, opening track “This,” is one of the most straightforward songs he’s done in years, as he sings a simple verse over a repeating bassline and sputtering electronic beats. It sounds more like a recent work of David Byrne’s in fact. It even sounds a bit like Byrne’s voice, which goes to show that there really must be strict requirements for entrance into the “Cool Aging Rockers Club.”
From there, however, Eno begins to move back toward ambient textures with the gentle ringing of “And Then So Clear.” It’s still structured like a pop song, however, with Eno’s vocoded voice floating over a delicate melody. But “A Long Way Down,” however, finds the British legend entering atmospheric realms yet again. He still sings, and there’s still some minor semblance of pop to it, but if it recalls any of his work, it’s the less jaunty tracks on Another Green World, or the instrumentals on David Bowie’s Heroes.
Another Day on Earth blurs the line between Brian Eno the songwriter and Brian Eno the avant garde soundscapist. From “Going Unconscious” to “Caught Between” to “Passing Over,” Eno takes on pop music from a decidedly unconventional stance. Comparisons to Peter Gabriel might be inevitable, as both have combined pop with less traditional sounds. The Eno of today is as relevant as the Eno of yesterday, with plenty of sonic similarities to go along with it. “How Many Worlds,” for instance, is not far from the sound of those jaunty tracks from Another Green World, yet more mature and with less of a trace of his glam rock beginnings.
“Just Another Day” finds beats returning to Eno’s space age miasma, as well as some otherworldly sounds, which bleed into the dense, epic “Under,” as the album seems to be backloaded with more straightforward material, at least for Eno, anyway. But the entire album is accessible, which is what makes it such a joy to hear. This album had been long hailed before its release as Eno’s return to pop, and to a large extent, that’s pretty accurate. But Eno has maintained a strong ambient presence all the while. Another Day on Earth is a true Eno classic. It’s been some time since we’ve heard him perform “songs,” but his current approach is as innovative, if not as edgy, as anyone could have hoped for.