More exalted than Nick Drake, more mysterious than Syd Barrett, and more influential than Richard Thompson, there is one who is repeatedly held up as the grand poobah of rock snob iconography: Brian Eno. So when I started seeing the hype surrounding Eno’s return to song-based output on Another Day on Earth, including banners at the top of this site, I was intrigued. Having previously only really gotten into his one-off sample experiment with David Byrne on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, I thought now was as good a time as any to increase my exposure to Eno’s work and up my rock snob credibility.
I was looking forward to putting on some headphones, pulling the blinds and submerging myself in Eno’s ambient soundscapes. But when I received the review disc, I noticed the following label: “Copy Protected: This CD is protected against unauthorized copying. It is designed to play in standard audio CD players. It is not designed to play in computers. Playback problems may also be experienced with car systems, DVD players and game consoles.” And, sure enough, I couldn’t get a PC or Mac to even acknowledge the disc was inserted — so listening on my iPod was out. Attempts in the home theater’s DVD player also came up empty. After trying all the other players in the house, I realized I don’t have any that fall into the “standard audio CD player” category that Rykodisc was demanding. However, defying the odds, and the record company’s legal team, my car stereo did actually play the music.
This, however, produced a new set of interesting results and logistical problems. First, although the disc is properly tracked and my car stereo will mark the passing of each by advancing through them as each song is played, the disc will not let me manually move ahead or back to a specific track or specific place within a track. Second, sure, it’s a good stereo, but not really my preference for a review listening. Third, and most disturbing for both me and my fellow drivers, is the notion that the only place I can listen to this disc is in my car. So, now saddled with the idea of having to sit in my car to review this music, I am completely soured on the content before I have even made it through a single listen.
Amazingly, the music immediately redeems my frustration. From the percolating opening beat to the majestic chorus, “This” is the most immediately accessible song in the collection. It’s exactly what you hope for from an Eno composition — vaguely meaningless lyrics conveyed with a sense of importance over vaguely timeless music delivered with a sense of purpose. The title track is another excellent moment which has a future-pop sheen. The penetrating beats return, this time accompanied by Eno’s detached but not disaffected vocals, telling the listener “It’s just another day / It’s just another day on earth.” “How Many Worlds” begins with a melancholic Beatles-channeling acoustic guitar that builds with the addition of strings. There is a sadness in the tone of the song that peaks with a piano coda before drifting off the page. Not all is perfect, however. To their own detriment, atmospherics are allowed to take over on too many tracks like “A Long Way Down” and “Going Unconscious” — both containing shallow synthesizers and barely-there vocals.
Taken as a whole, maybe the effort Rykodisc put me through was by design. Maybe they figured the harder I worked to access the music, the more dramatic the revelation would be. And that is the way things worked out. In spite of my surly mood by the time I heard the disc’s contents, I didn’t have to work very hard to find redemption in the undulating music that lies, as Eno sings on “Bottomliners”, “all through the ether”.