Brian Eno & Robert Fripp - The Equatorial Stars

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How very English. Did Toyah, Robert Fripp's wife, make the cake? Sadly the sleeve notes don't list the chef.


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The inside cover of Fripp and Eno's new album The Equatorial Stars shows a photo of two cups of tea and two pieces of cake. How very English. Did Toyah, Robert Fripp's wife, make the cake? Sadly the sleeve notes don't list the chef. It is perhaps surprising, given the presence of Mr. Fripp that The Equatorial Stars is an ambient album. Especially surprising, as Fripp does unleash his guitar on all of the seven tracks. But there are no classic Fripp wig-outs, where he appears to be trying to set a world record for the highest number of notes ever included in a guitar solo, irrespective of length. No, here Fripp is necessarily contained and subdued – maybe he played his guitar parts whilst immersed up to his neck in cold thick mud. Because this is a cold record. Eno's worked with space before, but this is a very different beast to the warmth of Apollo. Maybe this reflects the human element involved in the space missions.


 


The opening track sets down a marker – "Meissa" is ghostly and sombre; subtle traces of guitar weave their way around metallic, glitchy flickers. The rest of the tracks essentially follow this template. Pulses of guitar and shimmering drones conjure up the vastness, and the emptiness, of space. There are only two exceptions to this template – on "Lupus" we hear a ghostly heartbeat and on "Altair" there is actually a beat proper. Against this Fripp conjures an impression of whale song from his guitar whilst Eno contributes the sound of a diseased ice-cream van. By the time the final track comes around you can't help thinking that it sounds like the incidental music to an episode of Dr. Who. Which is not as dismissive as it might appear to be – the Radiophonic Workshop were true pioneers of electronic music and people like Delia Derbyshire are finally getting the recognition they deserve.


 


Having said that I was actually being a bit dismissive with the Dr. Who allusion. The album disappoints. Perhaps it does its job too well – if space is empty, cold and pretty much lifeless, then so too is this record. Creating ambient music is, I think, much like creating abstract art. It looks easy and it is tempting to think that anyone can do it. Yet the amount of intellectual rigour that generally goes into 'successful' abstract art is incredibly high. It's not about daubing a few geometric shapes on a canvas. Similarly, ambient music can't be created with a few wishy-washy synths, and a plodding beat. Of course, one can't accuse Eno of not being intellectual (as his excellent diaries attest to) nor of him underestimating the demands of ambient music given the great albums he's made in the past. But this record feels lazy and tired. It is possible to believe that he found some textures left over from Nerve Net, invited Fripp over to noodle away on the guitar for a couple of hours and then worked on the results. With a cup of tea and some cake.


 


Words : Chris Dawson