Brian Eno turns 68 today.
His most recent LP, The Ship, was released on Warp records two weeks ago (April 29th). It's his 26th studio album (not counting another 26 collaborative LPs, and countless discs on which he served as producer) and his first to feature vocals since 2005’s Another Day on Earth.
On first listen, The Ship seems confused: as pop songs they are too ambient, and as ambient music it is too demanding (with both spoken and sung lyrics). Eno's own ambient music maxim dictates that it should reward, but not demand the listener's attention.
However, The Ship's closing track is a beautiful cover of The Velvet Underground’s "I’m Set Free", a song from their 1969 self-titled third album. Eno's voice is a perfect fit for the chorus harmonies.
"The first time I ever heard [The Velvet Underground] was on a John Peel radio show... it was when their first album came out and I thought, 'this I like, this I want to know about!' I was having a huge crisis at the time. Am I going to be a painter or am I somehow going to get into music. And I couldn't play anything so music was the less obvious choice. Then, when I heard The Velvet Underground I thought, 'you can do both actually.' It was a big moment for me.
That particular song always resonated with me but it took about 25 years before I thought about the lyrics. 'I'm set free, to find a new illusion'. Wow. That's saying we don't go from an illusion to reality (the western idea of 'finding the truth') but rather we go from one workable solution to another more workable solution.
Subsequently I think we aren't able and actually don't particularly care about the truth, whatever that might be. What we care about is having intellectual tools and inventions that work. [Yuval Noah Harari in his book 'Sapiens'] discusses that what makes large-scale human societies capable of cohering and co-operating is the stories they share together. Democracy is a story, religion is a story, money is a story. This chimed well with 'I'm set free to find a new illusion'. It seems to me what we don't need now is people that come out waving their hands and claiming they know the Right Way."
- Brian Eno