Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Pearl - Brian Eno and Harold Budd (Autumn 2010)

The Pearl (2004 Remaster Series)

Brian Eno & Harold Budd
Astralwerks/Virgin Records.

SCQ Rating: 80%

Eno-readers who weren’t alive during the time of Roxy Music seem to break-down into three groups: (1) those who are trying to gauge whether Music For Airports really is the ambient record to invest in, (2) those who are finally looking to branch off from Music For Airports, and (3) David Byrne fans who’ve wandered to the left. That third group I won’t comment on, namely because I can’t speak for them, but The Pearl contains valuable insights into Eno’s career that music critics, armed with twenty-twenty hindsight, typically overlook. As for groups (1) and (2), if any record can upset Music For Airports’ rank as the premiere ambient album, it can likely be found amid a shortlist of other Eno classics. Less hyperbolized than Ambient 4: On Land or Another Green World but equally powerful is The Pearl, the almighty underdog.

In 1984, the same year he composed the long-form Thursday Afternoon and produced U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, Eno camped out at Daniel Lanois’ Hamilton, Ontario studio and produced The Pearl with Harold Budd. A striking collection of piano-based compositions with transient electronics slinking behind Budd’s notes, The Pearl works with the same fluidity and grace that marked Eno’s heralded classics. What’s shifted, then, is Music For Airports’ sterility; here replaced with palpable emotion that weaves through ‘Late October’ like distant memories. Neither happy nor regretful, stunning follow-ups like ‘A Stream Of Bright Fish’ and ‘Against the Sky’ evoke those recollections as rightly intangible, thus partly tragic. Eno’s initial mission statement for ambient music still applies in spite of Budd’s thoughtful progressions but The Pearl become increasingly oblique, slipping further into heavy grays as the disc continues. The echo-wrapped piano strolls into eerie surroundings on ‘Dark-Eyed Sister’ and again for the twilight gloom of ‘Foreshadowed’.

Perhaps it’s that arc – an inevitability when you’re working with a renowned composer like Budd – which spoils The Pearl’s ambience for a purist’s perspective, thereby damning it to the completist’s end of Eno’s catalog. It hardly matters. As a studied appreciation between classical and electronic backgrounds, Budd and Eno weren’t afraid to give ambience some direction; that devious smile is what ultimately distinguishes The Pearl.

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