Vital or Recital?
Another Eno record and another collaboration. Eno has been wandering a sketchy path through the eighties and nineties, sometimes avoiding music altogether and concentrating on video installations and art projects instead of getting back into the studio. I'd love to say great things about this record but unfortunately I have heard too many of his records to say that I really rate this one.
To be frank, it just doesn't cut it.
As a pioneer during the '70s, Eno created a whole new genre/style of music in Ambient that has inspired so many artists ever since. This record, though, is more like Muzak with slick beats. The glossy vibe is probably due to the fact that the record is not so minimal and in places, it even veers towards the coffee table.
I'm not sure how this album was recorded but it sounds very polished. Computers in music can seem to drain the essence of a tune and the beauty of emotion. But we cannot simply blame his tools. Take also the strings that weave through most of the songs. They are pretty in places, but this is the inherent nature of the instrument. On this record they fail to move the listener and to the greatest extent on 'Night Traffic'. One thing we are sure hasn't been lost on this record are the titles, which are as oblique and humorous as ever. Take for example 'Rising Dust' and then a little later 'More Dust'.
Working with guests seems to be an ongoing trend with Eno. In the past it has not really been clear who has had the most creative impact on the songs. I'm hoping this record was more of a Schwalm album, letting Eno off the hook. In the past Jah Wobble outweighed Eno on Spinner and maybe, even the classic, My Life In a Bush of Ghosts was more the work of David Byrne? Most people know that Eno's role on records is as much as a conduit as it is a musician, and it is this, which makes him an interesting artist.
On a more positive note though some of the live drums are excellent, sounding like Bowery Electric on sedatives in places. The track 'Like Pictures Part 2' is the most successful song on Drawn From Life. Its interesting claps, Chinese spirit along with processed drum machines make it the most contemporary sounding Eno tune in years. Another current trend that Eno and Schwalm have incorporated is the extreme effects on the vocals. Take, for example, the heavily filtered 'Rising Dust' which sounds very Daft in a punk manner. This sound is intriguing for the first few listens but irritating after a while. They only just get away with it on 'Two Voices' but that is because the background music sounds like something off of Apollo and blends effectively with the vocoder.
Drawn From Life is chillout but not in upbeat Ibiza Compilation territory, ambient but not understated enough to be as good as old school Eno (listen to the record with Harold Budd for minimal beauty). It's background music in a real sense and I don't think that was planned.
His early music was vital and inspired many, but as the picture of the two musicians on the inside cover suggests, Eno has bedded himself into music theory so deeply, (learnt too much) that what remains sounds like a mere recital rather than a seminal album.
© Alan Osborne 2001