New Audio: Brian Eno’s Gorgeously Ambient Cover of The Velvet Underground


More than enough ink has been spilled throughout Brian Eno’s nearly 50 year musical career, so delving deeply through his backstory will largely be unnecessary and beyond the scope of this particular post. But along with Kraftwerk, Eno may arguably be one of the most influential and important figures of contemporary music and electronic music as he’s played with, collaborated with or produced an impressive array of artists including Roxy Music, David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2, Coldplay, Damon Albarn, Genesis and others, and along with that Eno has managed to remain both incredibly relevant and prolific.

Eno’s latest album The Ship is his first solo album since his Grammy-nominated effort Lux and was originally conceived from experiments with three-dimensional recording techniques and consisting of two, lengthy interconnected parts. Interestingly, Eno along with his labels Warp Records and Fontana North Distribution have described the effort as being as much like a musical novel as it is a traditional album. As Eno explains in press notes “On a musical level, I wanted to make a record of songs that didn’t rely on the normal underpinnings of rhythmic structure and chord progressions but which allowed voices to exist in their own space and time, like events in a landscape. I wanted to place sonic events in a free, open space. . . ” and he pairs that with a series of interwoven narratives, which he admits “some of them I know, some of them I’m discovering now in the making of them.”

The Ship’s latest “single” “Fickle Sun (iii)”/”I Feel Free” features a gorgeous and ambient cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I Feel Free” that replaces the original’s guitars with gently buzzing synths and soaring strings while Eno’s vocals ethereally  float over the mix in a way that subtly nods at his work — in particular, his work in Roxy Music. Interestingly, as Eno explains of the cover “The first time I ever heard The Velvet Underground was on a John Peel  radio show. . . it was when their first album came out and I thought ‘This I like! This is what I want to know about!’ I was having a huge crisis at the time: Am I going to be a painter, or am I somehow going to get into music? And I couldn’t play anything so music was the less obvious choice. Then I heard The Velvet Underground and I thought ‘you can do both actually.’ It was a big moment for me.”

I Feel Free he says “always resonated with me, but it took 25 years before I thought about the lyrics. ‘I’m set free, to find a new illusion.’ Wow. That’s saying we don’t go from an illusion to reality (the Western idea of ‘finding the Truth”) but rather we go from one workable solution to another more workable solution. Subsequently I think we aren’t able and actually don’t particularly care about the truth, whatever that might be. What we care about is having intellectual tools and inventions that work. [Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens] discusses that what makes large-scale human societies capable of cohering and co-operating is the stories they share together. Democracy is a story, religion is a story, money is a story. This chimed well with “I’m set free to find a new illusion”. It seems to me what we don’t need now is people that come out waving their hands and claiming they know the ‘right way.’” As a result, the cover possesses a wistful sense of hope in a brighter future — and believe me, considering the political climate, I think we all need it.