Saturday, October 29, 2005

Whose Responsibility

During my musical formative years no musician was deified more by my friends than Brian Eno. I still consider the first two Roxy Music albums among my very favorite ever, and Eno’s post-Roxy quartet of solo albums (Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, Before and After Science, Here Come the Warm Jets, Another Green World) remain as brilliant and influential now as at their release (witness, in the left side bar, Sigur Ros’s Takk).

Since those four releases Eno has made his ambient series, collaborated widely (including the shamefully underappreciated Wrong Way Up with the shamefully underappreciated John Cale), and produced albums for others, most famously the Berlin Trilogy of Bowie (Low, Heroes, Lodger), U2, and Talking Heads. (The title of Eno’s own antic "King’s Lead Hat", off Before and After Science, is an anagram of Talking Heads.)

Another Day on Earth, Eno’s first vocal album in years, has just been released. I bought it the day it came out. I feared listening to it. I knew I would be disappointed. If I consider Another Green World, which the title of the new album I assume is meant to echo, unassailably groundbreaking - or at least so to me - unless Eno had discovered an entirely new musical language, at best Another Day on Earth could only be as good as his earlier work, which means it couldn’t be as good because not new.

Another Day on Earth is unmistakably an Eno album. The aural chirps and propulsively rhythmic ticks, the druid airiness of his vocals are all there, but they’re there seemingly exactly as they were back in 1975. There is one song I very much like, the opening cut "This," and no songs I dislike. I feel no compulsion to listen to it again any time soon. I suspect that next time I feel like listening to Eno I’ll pull out Before and After Science.

Which makes me feel a bit guilty, feel a bit sad. Even a mediocre Eno album - if this is what Another Day on Earth is - I find more satisfying than the majority of new music that I hear. And yet I find the album a disappointment, which calls into question my objectivity as it is related to my expectations. What obligations do I have as a fan, a fan who may have irresponsibly beatified a musician in my youth, when approaching a new album, well after the beatification, of that saint? On whom is the onus of newness, the musician who produces the album he wants or the listener who’s demanding the thrill and freedom of freshness he felt when he first heard the musician thirty years ago? Perhaps Brian Eno has made an album far more subtle in its innovations and re-inventions than I - who remember how revelatory and revolutionary I found his earlier work and selfishly want that feeling again - can appreciate. And whose fault is that?


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