Review Summary: A well-intended misfire
Discrediting Small Craft on a Milk Sea
for being scattershot seems almost unfair, really, even though it most certainly is. See, this is supposed to be a final pass at more glory and relevance for Brian Eno, after years of releasing albums that made nary a blip on anyone's radar; this is especially considering how
Eno has set himself up for a comeback of impressive proportions, with signing to Warp and with that album art and all. But, ultimately, these intentions are reflected most clearly in the music, and Small Craft
sounds like a well-intended return to the abstraction of (excellent) albums such as Another Green World
and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
, when Eno seemed to have the ability, and the gall, to do almost anything (obviously, Small Craft
's all-over-the-place nature seems much more intentional when looked at in this perspective). Thus, this is the point in Eno's narrative where he gets his proverbial shit
together, and where he finally makes an album with the daringness his best works still hold; which would be true, if Small Craft
didn't misfire so greatly.
Which is a shame, really, and I actually sort of feel bad for the haranguing of Small Craft
that I've done/am about to do. This is because it's necessary for Eno to keep the motivation he clearly showcases on Small Craft
; there's no part in me that wants him to stop making records. He's just way too good, and the best songs on Small Craft
prove that he hasn't completely lost it. Problem is, Eno seems almost as if he's worried about us, from a distant armchair in the middle-of-nowhere; us being the listeners, from the fervent fanatics to the curious first-timers. The album's intentions are to please, for one of its sixteen tracks to hopefully hit, and hit hard; unfortunately, Eno seemingly can't conjure up the creativity and genuine inspiration he's capable of, with us in mind. Small Craft
's downfall is its messy approach, which seems to just be spray and pray.
Safe to say, dude missed. Small Craft
lacks the cohesiveness of albums like Another Green World
, where Eno's various abstract pieces added up to something more sturdily whole. Rather, Small Craft
just sounds choppy, and its songs aren't altogether strong enough to make up for its unevenness. Some experiments do showcase some genuine creativity, like the sprawling and engaging ambient piece "Lake Anthropocene," or the Lightning Bolt-esque noise rock, and resulting intensity that just barely brims over the surface, of "Paleosonic." However, much of Small Craft
is just almost unequivocally bad. Experiments such as the goofily quasi-ominous "2 Forms of Anger" and "Flint March", which is so thin-sounding and amateurish that it sounds like Eno crafted it on Fruity Loops, mostly fail. More damning is the album's production, which is overwhelmingly stuffy and modern. Some lo-fi charm could have certainly worked in Eno's favor, perhaps adding to the scatterbrained feel of the album; instead, Small Craft
just sounds overtly processed and pristine.
The album's production, and the flaws it presents, are more clearly defined in Small Craft
's ambient pieces. Besides the dauntingly brilliant "Lake Anthropocene," most of the ambient/drone-ish songs here sound lifeless, and their short runtimes and perfect, dense production makes the music way too intrusive to be interpreted. As I’ve said before, ambient works best when it’s ambiguous yet just barely and minimally engaging, and songs like “Complex Heaven” and “Slow Ice, Old Moon” are neither. Instead, their intentions are so clear -- “Slow Ice, Old Moon” is to be creepy and foreboding; “Complex Heaven,” desolate and wistful, and so on for other songs -- that it hardly leaves room for the listener. It makes Small Craft
a very impersonal experience; a shame, considering how interpretive and emotionally engaging Eno’s best ambient works are.
is an undoubtedly well-intended release, one that shows Eno is at least fully trying again to keep afloat of falling into obscurity. However, this just isn’t the same Eno that made Another Green World
, that made Bush of Ghosts
, and this is ultimately where Small Craft
’s problems all stem from. Instead, this is an Eno who’s built a clear, constrictive bubble around himself; a bubble where only U2 and Coldplay songs play all day on an unchanging loop; a place where the mind that made those near-perfect albums is melting away, is losing all that creativity. It’s a place with constrictions so tight that he can only record an album with unneeded help, from people whose abilities don‘t even compare. Small Craft
is an attempt to puncture that bubble, but doesn’t quite do it; but, hopefully, if Eno’s focus is still there, the next one should. I’m at least optimistic that it will.