I am imprisoned in a high-walled stone concourse, or palazzo of some kind. The walls and floors seem to be made of exactly the same type of material, a shiny white featureless stone that seems to absorb most of the available light, giving the atmosphere, if not a dim, then a slightly suppressed quality. My feet echo as I explore the walls. Occasionally I spy a slight alcove, sometimes a pillar, some minor decorative feature but no doors or windows, nothing useful or substantial. The stone is otherwise seamless, there are no joins, blocks or tool marks anywhere I can see. After a while of searching the effect quickly becomes oppressive, my mind begins to play tricks on me, alternatively switching off, or inventing features which aren’t really there; if I stare long enough at the walls without blinking, the white warps and changes until I give up and blink it all away. There’s nothing here for me.
Which is as close as I can get with those word thingys to describing the effect Brian Eno’s 2012 LP Lux has on me.
Now let’s get a couple of things straight, Mr Eno as well as being an ex feather boa-toting sex God in his Roxy Music days, has a very big brain. Mr Eno’s very big brain is full of extraordinarily complicated things that you simply can’t fit into smaller brains like mine – totally different operating systems; his brain sees things in 5D, I still struggle with long division. Mr Eno has made, or produced a big number of my favourite LPs ever, especially his work with David Byrne and his series of four numbered ambient LPs in the late 70’s/early 80’s. So what I’m trying to say is that I don’t criticize him lightly.
But criticize I must. To my jaded old ears Lux is ambient music at its worst, well actually scrub that, there is no waves and whale song bullshit here, so Lux just got promoted to one up from worst. Lux is four pieces of music clocking in at just under 20 minutes each. On the back cover each track is denoted as a dot and matrix pattern, nothing as pedestrian as song titles here mortal!*. The whole of Lux was devised to accompany an Italian exhibition of Eno’s visual art and the LP, is a Luxuriously** packaged affair replete with Mr Eno’s pictures and contains four prints of his work, which all looks like trees to me. I rather like his art by the way, it has something of late-period Charles Pollock about it, crossed with the sort of decorative abstraction you find in pictures on the wall of upscale pizza places.
Shorn of the visuals^ Lux does not have much to recommend it, in my view. I love ambient music, but it needs to do more for me than just glide on by, which almost all of this LP does. There are some embellishments here and there, some low piano notes, a bit of gentle noodling on the glockenspiel, a key change or two, but it all strikes me as pretty watery soup. I can detect nothing new here. The best sounds and passages recall Ambient 1, or even Ambient 2 but without the first splash of originality that gilds the experience of listening to them, Lux is a mirror image of them at best.
There’s nothing bad here, but I am afraid that Lux commits the cardinal sin of ambient music^^, the one thing it cannot afford to do, which is to be boring. I am happy to accept that this may simply be down to the inferior size of my own brain and a consequent inability to comprehend this music in the requisite five dimensions, but I’m still left lacking here.
The lone and the level walls stretch far away.
*I secretly hope that the titles are actually outrageous obscenities in a language devised by Eno entirely for his own amusement one wet afternoon.
**see what I did there?
^I did try to hold a print up in front of my eyes for the duration of each piece, but my arms got tired.
^^apart from the whale song thing, that’s a biggie too.