If one of Daniel Lanois’s solo albums ever happened to be instrumental, it tended to be securely anchored in some kind of subgenre. While Belladonna built its mood in an Americana-flavored haze, Flesh and Machine took the noisy route to constructing sound collages. For Goodbye to Language, the legendary producer has done away with such anchors. This is Daniel Lanois completely weightless, in space, without a beat to be heard. There are twelve tracks in all, and all have distinguishable names like “Satie”, “East Side”, and “Suspended”. But push play and you will not hear twelve individual “songs” in any traditional sense. You will instead hear a solemn 36-minute meditation with only the most subtle of gaps used to divide the passages. So if Belladonna bored you or if Flesh and Machine either freaked you out or kind of confused you (I know of which critics I speak), then you might as well not bother with Goodbye to Language. But if you find that spacier Lanois makes for better Lanois, then there is no reason not to take the plunge.
Goodbye to Language is a collaborative album between Lanois and his Black Dub bandmate Rocco DeLuca of Rocco DeLuca and the Burden. With just lap steel guitars and some studio gadgetry, Lanois and DeLuca were able to make an ambient album that stands toe-to-toe with the former’s collaborative work with Brian Eno in the early ‘80s in terms of atmosphere. No keyboards were plugged in and switched on in the making of Goodbye to Language—all of the sounds you hear have originated from vibrating strings. In terms of the recording approach, that makes the album rather novel. When it comes to taking it all in at once, novelty isn’t going to get you anywhere. The listener either needs to 1) absorb the unifying mood in its entirety or 2) keep an ear out for isolated moments of transcendent yet touch-and-go beauty. Fortunately for the headphone listeners out there, Goodbye to Language has an abundance of both.
Singling out any particular track is a bit of a challenge. After all, you wouldn’t go out of your way to promote one slice of bread over another if both slices came from the same loaf. But if there were one track that can help showcase Lanois and DeLuca’s musical chemistry for combining the dreamy with the weird, “Deconstruction” is a fine place to start. What is happening? What is going to happen next? What kind of music is this anyhow? Whether or not you find yourself asking these particular questions, a spell is being cast as “Deconstruction” plays. The rest of Goodbye to Language reinforces that spell. There may be flashes of David Gilmour or hints of fruit from the Fripp and Eno tree, but these moments all orbit around the same distant, distant star.
In his long list of career accomplishments, Daniel Lanois can now tick off the box marked “MAKE A COMPLETELY FORMLESS AMBIENT ALBUM”. Naturally, Goodbye to Language isn’t going to cater to everyone. It’s not an album designed to show off Lanois’s songwriting abilities or any range in dynamics. Goodbye to Language is for the quiet times when your mind wanders to the ice-capped mountain tops of one of Jupiter’s moons. Just because you’ve never pondered such a random, weird thing before doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out, right?