It's quite a while since I've been excited by the stuff that Eno's released over recent decades. Either he's released more ambience into the world than it either needs, cares for, or can take, or its the well modulated, smooth, sonically controlled songs of Another Day On Earth. Though these have been pleasant additions to the lexicon, they elict no cigars for innovation. Only in his collaborative work, has there ever been some sense of exploration. But this has always been so, from Roxy through Talking Heads, Bowie and U2 on. Working with other peoples ideas in conjunction with his own appears to loosens the creative reins of control, where something random and often magically unexpected happens.
His work with Fripp having long ago reached an impasse, it was only on Drawn from Life with Peter Schwalm, (2001) that we last saw Eno really make a concerted attempt at breaking out of his neat oblique process. It surprises me that this process, allegedly so experimental and changeable, can end up producing a body of recent work so uniformly consistent in character. Perhaps he has indeed become defined, if not confined, within his own working process and created his own musical category - Enoesque
Small Craft on a Milky Sea, however, does frequently gouge new grooves into his undoubtedly broad range of recordings. Maybe this comes from the 'improvisatory' nature of the source material. On 'Horse','2 Forms of Anger,Flint March' 'Paleosonic' and 'Dust Shuffle' we hear an Eno I thought had almost become extinct, one with sharp, aggressive, harsh, even discordant edges. Music one might even cut oneself on, or find difficult listening. To someone brought up on 'No Pussyfooting' oh what great joy it is to hear these tracks!
Yes, there are still plenty of the recumbent, languid landscapes, as on 'Emerald and Lime' and the rather beautiful title track 'Small Craft on a Milky Sea, but these are rather contained, refined examples of the form he created. The album moves through a range of film like moods, suggestive of reflection, apprehension, transcendence, anger or fearfulness, in equal measure. Just when you've relaxed into a dreamy imaginary sunset, there comes an exultant storm of energy. Producing one of his most satisfying albums for quite some time.