Even geniuses aren’t genius all the time


Drums Between the Bells

Brian Eno & Rick Holland

Release Date: Jul 04, 11

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Brian Eno hasn’t had anything to prove for a long time. Arguably, he never had anything to prove. And it’s not because everything he put his touch on turned to gold. It may have all started back in the 70s on Top of the Pops when he emerged like an alien, tweaking little blips and squeaks with Roxy Music. That said, with his new album, Drums Between the Bells, featuring Rick Holland, he could’ve completed the entire album with the first two songs, and no one could’ve blamed him for it.

The meat of Drums Between the Bells consists of Eno’s ambient style covered with the poetry of Rick Holland. It may perhaps sound good on paper, but poetry over ambient music does not a good song make. Not all the time. Poetry is not a always a substitute or medium for song lyrics. These are two different animals. It is, in fact, a disrespect to poetry to assume it can be used for song lyrics. And the problem with this group of poems/songs is that significant or powerful words that they may be, they flood over the music in a way that is jarring and disconcerting. Actually, the poems, in their airy, New Agey context, come off as pretentious.

This is an album for Eno fans, who can get past these pretensions after a few listens, then enjoy the music, which is good ambient music. There is nothing surprising about the music itself, from the perspective of his deep catalog, but it is good. But it would take several listens for the album to dissolve into one’s palate.

But back to the first two tracks, which are completely separate from the rest of the album. “bless this space,” the opener, begins with a droning, welcoming, tone. Its fuzzy baseline, coupled with the monotone intonation is how a poem should be presented with music. It feels like the listener is beginning a journey into another realm of Eno’s experimental style. The song doesn’t try to hard to make an impact. It’s simple and jazzy. When the guitar kicks in? Yes. Perfect. And by the end of the track, it feels like it has snuck up on you. There’s even a nice flourish of drum that reminds the listener of the album’s theme.

Almost immediately, “glitch” begins with a fresh electro rhythm, sensible drums, and the computerized voice of poetry, which is well masqueraded by the sound. Once all this settles in, synthesizers emerge in a 60s futuristic manner. Incredible. Alas, it is over too fast.

What follows are the slow, drippy, poems, which reflect on “dream birds,” “seedpods,” and “the airmen.” This doesn’t come off as over-ambitious, just in the wrong context. Again, it may take several listens to get ‘it’, but you shouldn’t have to stay up till 4 a.m. on a random listen to get something if it is really there. But maybe that’s just how it has to be. And it is Eno. He can do what he wants. And because of that respect, the album deserves several listens.