There's no denying that Brian Eno is a brilliant musician, but he's no poet. Someone should've informed the esteemed composer and producer of that sad fact before he penned the laughable lyrics for "Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour Is Thin," the third track on his new album, The Ship. On it he sings: "The phoenix broods serene above the tower of time / The universe is required, please notify the sun."
Such pretentiousness distracts from the unsurprisingly sterling music (this is the man that helped build the soundscape for Bowie's timeless Berlin Trilogy, after all). If you can get past the haughty lyrics on "Fickle Sun (ii)," for instance, then its minimalist piano notes will surely impress. And yet, even that song's musicianship sounds downright conventional compared to preceding tracks "Fickle Sun (i)" and opening track "The Ship," a 21-minute composition that begins with solemn synth moans like a distant vessel's horn. The lingering, subtle introduction continues until the six-minute mark, when metallic clanking takes over, then makes way for Eno's startlingly sudden singing. He describes rolling waves and a mysterious ship in a Gregorian chant-like delivery that's thankfully far more compelling than his lacklustre turn on "Fickle Sun (ii)."
As "The Ship" continues, Eno's voice is filtered through slight distortion that makes him sound forlornly robotic. Then, with only six minutes remaining on the song's running time, a higher-pitched, more feminine voice floats through the haze of groaning synths. It's all very soothing, but then there are jarring creaks and sonar pings that drown such pleasantries out.
Such surprises make The Ship challenging and unconventional, elements that will surely appeal to Eno's ambient fans, even if they've heard albums like it before. (Warp)