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Trying to Say Something Negative About Brian Eno...

...leads one to saying nothing at all.

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: October, 2010
Lots of things totally happen on this Eno record. Just not totally interesting things.
by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: October, 2010
Lots of things totally happen on this Eno record. Just not totally interesting things.

Brian Eno
Small Craft on a  Milk Sea

...leads one to saying nothing at all. But like Eno's artistic forefather John Cage famously said, I have nothing to say and I am saying it, and that is poetry. Only time will tell if this response to his new album Small Craft on a Milk Sea meets that mark of poetry, but here goes.

There was a time when I thought the rising and setting sun were both Brian Eno's big bald head as he strode the earth an artistic giant from one shimmering sea of sound to another, but that was a different time than now.

The A/C in my office is generally set on stun, like phasers are during a minor alien Star Trek encounter, creating an ambiance that is often hostile to my presence in it and there is a repair person climbing around in the ducts above my head tapping on things. His walkie-talkie keeps going skrchhhzhh. I am tempted to say that this racket offers thankfully material counterpoint to the persistent Muzak of this new Eno record but that would be disingenuous and cruel. Lots of things totally happen on this Eno record. Just not totally interesting things.

To its credit, Small Craft on a Milk Sea is a vessel loosened from any handy dock. There is a dancefloor stomp at parts, pristine vistas in others, even what sounds like a proper guitar solo here and there. It should be noted that the undisputed world's best guitar solo caught on tape is that by Robert Fripp in Brian Eno's "Baby on Fire." Like scientifically-proven best. But again, that was 1974. The last really good Brian Eno record, the last one I didn't have to convince myself was good because it was a Brian Eno record, was 1988's Music for Films Vol. 3 and its X-factor was the magnificent "4 Minute Warning" by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones.

People love Brian Eno. I love Brian Eno. Now, I totally buy Brian Eno the installation artist. That thing where he projected abstract images on the Sydney Opera House was thrilling, simple, elegant. It upped the conceptual ante on Christo by marking up the monumental with impermanence. His eminence as a producer is inarguable (all those U2 albums at least sound good), though Lydia Lunch, an early recipient of Eno's largess in that field, said of his records "It's like drinking a glass of water. It means nothing, but it's very smooth going down."

I don't feel that way about the whole of Brian Eno. Rock on, Roxy Music. His own rock albums, at least the first three, are treasures. His ambient albums were my gateway drug to the avant-garde. I do however echo Ms. Lunch's sentiment in regard to this new record and am compelled to be apologetic in saying so. Perhaps I should re-follow the Oblique Strategies twitter feed for guidance. The workers have left and now my A/C is simply not operational, and I am left to my own hot air in here. Two little chunks of some kind of loose plaster just fell on my desk. Is this what happens when you say something less than stellar about a Brian Eno record? Does the whole thing come to a halt? Does nature react, abhorring the vacuum of generally tacit accolade? Am I making the Phenomenology Mistake, where I assume that past performance indicates predictable results? Has my plane departed form the Music for Airports and am I over Brian Eno? Was I ever really into him, or is it possible that this record is just not for me? Is it suddenly getting really stuffy in here? One of the last @oblique_chirps said: Revaluation (a warm feeling), so maybe that's what it is. I'm going to open the window and listen again at low volume like he wanted us to do with Discreet Music 1975 and let all this blow over me. See what happens.

Small Craft on a Milk Sea is currently streaming from the good people at NPR. Image from Eno's White Cube gallery card, from here.

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Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com


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