Brian Eno - Drums Between the Bells - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Brian Eno - Drums Between the Bells

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2011-07-25

Eno's second album in less than a year, also his second for Warp, sees him stretching himself artistically in typically low-key and genteel fashion. Ever the fan of open-ended art experiments, he's collaborated with poet Rick Holland, providing soundscapes for a selection of Holland's poems. To achieve this, the pair have recruited a number of different speakers, including a lady overheard by Eno at his local health club. The resulting album is an absorbing work, even if it seldom transcends novelty to be truly moving.


Part of the problem is that it's hard to believe Eno has stretched himself with the music on Drums Between the Bells. Don't get me wrong, most of what's on offer here is excellent, from the dubbed-up spy theme of the opening 'Bless This Space', enlivened with a bonkers, unexpected guitar solo, to the pounding, industrial drum 'n' bass of 'Sounds Alien', through to 'Glitch', which sounds like an 80s Grace Jones song punctured with some - you guessed it - glitches .


However, much of the music provokes a sense of deja vu. 'The Real', for example, is very similar to the gorgeously weightless 'Ascent' from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtrack, while tracks such as 'Multimedia' recall one of his greatest, most affecting works, the verbal bricolage of 'Bonebomb'. Mostly, the rhythms have a shuffling, post-rave feel which would fit in snugly with much of Eno's 90s output, especially 1997's The Drop.


Then again, we shouldn't chastise an artist with as prestigious an output as Eno's for revisiting some of his past highlights. As a musician and producer, Eno doesn't so much move forward as sideways, always seeking a different space to explore, to play in. He's certainly doing that on Drums Between the Bells; the former pop star who famously swore off singing for years here puts the words first, tailoring his music to fit the context they create.


The best examples of this come, perhaps surprisingly, on the tracks which feature the lady from the health club. Whoever she is, her scintillatingly crisp pronunciation and warm, enveloping tone produce the album's greatest moments. On the fantastic 'Seedpods' her voice mixes perfectly with the airy music Eno conjures, and her recitation of verses about London buses makes you feel as if you are watching humanity from above on a bustling spring morning. The moodier, reflective 'A Title', also spoken by her, is another high point.


Elsewhere, it's the words or the way they are delivered which cause problems. The male vocalist on 'Breath of Crows' and 'Cloud 4' sounds like he's trying too hard to be portentous and weighty, something Eno's music is capable of doing all by itself. Meanwhile, the lines on 'The Real' musing on perception ("What you seem to see/ You really seem to see the real") just sound like embarrassing sixth form poetry over some lovely, atmospheric music that's doing a far better job of conveying their meaning than the speaker can manage.


So, Drums Between the Bells is perhaps not a wholly successful experiment but it is a very interesting one, no doubt for Eno more than anyone. And that's probably why it's hard to begrudge Eno the occasional less-than-brilliant release. He's an artist who has created a superlative body of work, and influenced generations of musicians into the bargain, just by finding ways to amuse himself. Long may he continue to do so.

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