The pioneering ambient musician Brian Eno’s latest album, The Ship is a sonic exploration of the dilemmas facing humankind. Inspired by the First World War and the sinking of the Titanic – the latter of which has provided its title – The Ship is out now through Warp Records.
Before releasing the album, Eno announced on his website that he was fascinated by the First World War because of its “extraordinary” madness:
“It [the War] followed immediately after the sinking of the Titanic, which to me is its analogue,” he writes. “The Titanic was the Unsinkable Ship, the apex of human technical power, set to be Man’s greatest triumph over nature. The First World War was the war of material... The catastrophic failure of each set the stage for a century of dramatic experiments with the relationships between humans and the worlds they make for themselves.”
The first half of the album, which features a mixture of electronic textures, strings and vocals, maintains an eerie atmosphere. In the second half, the mood is lifted with pleasant melodies on a solo piano, followed by a cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Set Free’.
For Eno, this passage from a dark place to a lighter one echoes humankind's balance between "“hubris and paranoia” - the excessive pride arising from our species's dominance, and our paranoia about the threats that it will eventually face.
“At the zenith we realise we have to come down again... we know that we have more than we deserve or can defend, so we become nervous... Paranoia leads to defensiveness, and we all end up in the trenches facing each other across the mud.”
The album’s late turn to lightness provides a false sense of comfort. It is an illusion and defence mechanism – hubris compensating for the initial paranoia.
“Anybody who’s read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens will recognise the quiet irony of ‘I’m set free to find a new illusion’... ” says Eno. “And its implication that when we step out of our story we don’t step into ‘the truth’ – whatever that might be – but into another story.
Born in 1948 in Suffolk, Brian Eno rose to prominence as a member of the 1970s group Roxy Music. After falling out with the band’s singer Bryan Ferry, Eno embarked on a solo career with the album Here Come the Warm Jets in 1974.
Since then, Eno has released 17 solo albums, eight ambient installation albums, eight video albums and 27 collaborative albums with fellow sonic adventurers such as Robert Fripp, Kevin Ayers, Nico, David Byrne and Jah Wobble. He has also produced around 50 albums, for artists as diverse as John Cage, David Bowie, the Talking Heads, Grace Jones and U2. He is considered the orginator of ambient music.