Brian Eno’s 25th studio album is best enjoyed by ignoring the artist’s dreary sales pitch. The Ship, Eno has stated, is a rumination on the sinking of the Titanic, the Velvet Underground and the rise of human civilisation as chronicled in Yuval Harari’s pop-science bestseller Sapiens. All of which may incline you to chuck the CD out the window before pausing to even remove it from the slipcase.
Divorced from the blather, however, this is a darkly mesmerising symphony that draws on such diverging sources as Aphex Twin, Dead Can Dance and 17th century sea-shanties. Rendered grave and dusky by age, 67 year-old Eno’s vocals are a dead ringer for those of DCD’s Brendan Perry while the burbling soundscapes he deploys are imbued with an almost overwhelming melancholy.
Eno’s best years are dwindling in the rear-view mirror and this self-knowledge bears down oppressively.
The title track is a 21-minute odyssey that ventures into murky waters and is transformed one third of the way in by Eno’s disembodied voice, bobbing like a cork on the waves. The latter half of the project is devoted to ‘Fickle Sun’, a three-part song-cycle where Eno ruminates on life and death. He has lost friends and collaborators David Bowie and Lou Reed across recent years. “The line is long / The line is gray / And humans turning back to clay,” he solemnly intones, a simple truth that cuts through the pretentiousness. These are the end-of-pier musings of a man confronted by mortality and deeply distraught by what he sees. Not even a surprise cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Set Free’ at the end can lift the mood.