While Brian Eno may be better known nowadays as the father of modern recorded ambient music and an acclaimed record producer and engineer of artist such as U2 and Talking Heads, he began his career as a pioneer of art and glam rock with fellow musicians David Bowie and Andy Mackay. His co-conspirator on 2014’s Someday World is Karl Hyde, the frontman of the house/electronica group Underworld and whose career – like Eno’s – extends well over 30 years. In circumspect, the collaboration comes as little surprise: for Hyde, Someday World is an opportune time to expand his already prolific career while experimenting with rock sensibilities; for Eno, who requires no such expansion to his career, it is a return to older forms.
The 2010s have seen several comeback releases by a variety of early glam rock artists, such as Bowie’s The Next Day. Eno’s four-part ambient work Lux came out in 2012, and Hyde began his own solo career with the debut Edgeland last year. These releases have looked back to earlier sounds for inspiration, which is precisely what Someday World serves up.
Someday World is a stylistic throwback to Eno and Hyde’s roots in ’70s art rock and ’80s/early ’90s electronic work, respectively. Hyde’s jungle percussion recalls Eno’s Nerve Net album from 1992. The four-on-the-floor house rhythms are immediately danceable and a sure sign of Hyde’s influence on the record. Neither musician overtly controls the artistic direction: while Eno’s vocals are certainly in the forefront, Hyde’s electronic backings are what give the album life.
Guest musicians include Andy Mackay (a Roxy Music alumnus, of which Brian Eno was a member) and Fred and Georgia Gibson. But their efforts sound like samples from a MIDI file rather than a fully-fleshed instrument, and while that kind of blurring of digital and organic might have passed in the ’90s, it isn’t quite as groundbreaking nowadays and overall detracts from an otherwise stellar performance.
The album is a mixture of successes and failed experiments. Hyde distinctly takes control on Witness, which features a spoken word bridge and steady crescendo of electronic sound. Eno tries his hand at poignancy on Strip It Down, but he doesn’t pull it off too well and the lyrics “so simple / so tender” and “strip it down / strip it down / make it simple / useless words” are insincere rather than thought-provoking. Hyde’s backings save the track from total drudgery, but it’s still a slump midway through the album. The duo perform far better on the immediate follow-up Mother Of A Dog, which features wonderfully off-kilter rhythms and a mastery of electronic ambience by Hyde.
When I Built This World sounds sketchily out of place in its overtly tentative structure and never really takes off despite flowing through several disparate song structures and holding a backbeat that could have come from an Autechre demo. In contrast, Who Rings The Bell is one of the best songs on the album and a very welcome addition to either musician’s repertoire. The underpinned guitar lick effortlessly flows with the electronic ambience, and here the poignancy in Eno’s voice works as he delivers one of his best vocal performances since his early solo output.
A Man Wakes Up appears strung together with non sequiturs that belie a striking social commentary of man’s place (or lack thereof) in an everchanging world; this self-awareness harkens back to Eno’s albums Taking Tiger Mountain and Before And After Science. Likewise, the harmonies, piano backings, and stirring major melodies on Witness are akin to Another Green World; Eno’s finale “I’ll miss you and miss you again and again…” are touching.
There are no Frippertronics by Eno this time around, but there is a heavy jazz-funk influence that neither artist has touched since much earlier in their careers, as seen within the breakdowns on Daddy’s Car and A Man Wakes Up. Perhaps Eno and Hyde were inspired by Daft Punk revisiting the ’70s and ’80s in last year’s Random Access Memories. The electronic rock themes bear similarities to Eno’s previous collaboration with David Byrne on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, but here the music is generally less dark and fatalistic, most likely due to Hyde’s input.
Someday World is, overall, an enjoyable release. It is not remarkable, but neither is it forgettable. There are several fantastic collaborations (A Man Wakes Up, Who Rings the Bell) and several failed experiments (Strip It Down, When I Built This World). However, despite its serious flaws, it is nice to see Eno making this kind of music again since his relative absence in the noughties, and for Hyde it is a hopeful stepping-stone to a productive, engaging solo career.