The first public taste of FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE could hardly have transpired in more extraordinary circumstances. As Brian Eno sang menacingly of “rock and fire” and “gas and dust” amid an ominously swelling storm of distorted synths, smoke lingered in the nighttime air and ash rained down from the heavens. He was standing on the ancient stage of Athens’ Odeon of Herodes Atticus, in the shadow of the Acropolis, and these were not special effects. Wildfires were ravaging the Greek countryside, and when he cautioned that “these billion years will end”, his voice dropped in a potent mix of angry admonition and desperate resignation. The song felt like a warning from the gods.
The occasion was the inaugural live performance last summer by Brian and younger brother Roger, in celebration of their debut full-length collaboration, Mixing Colours. Its timely release in March 2020, as the UK’s initial Covid lockdown began, allowed its gentle solo piano instrumentals to recast our sudden, alien emptiness as a welcome opportunity for a breather. That premiere a year later of “Garden Of Stars” – and “There Were Bells”, which engages with similar themes – occurred in no less serendipitous circumstances, albeit, given their concerns, in an appropriately less soothing manner. “Here we are,” Brian commented from the stage, “at the birthplace of civilisation, watching the end of it.”
FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE’s recorded versions stay, like the album’s subject matter, loyal to the sound of that night. “Garden Of Stars” again finds Leo Abrahams on guitar, Pete Chilvers on keyboards, and Roger on accordion– plus the latter’s daughter, Cecily, adding her voice – and its furious midsection flaunts the kind of visceral sound design favoured by sombre, supernatural Netflix dramas. “There Were Bells”, meanwhile, begins with birdsong and cosmic gong-like synths, Brian plaintively describing a summer’s day on which “the sky revolved a pink to golden blue” before his somnolent mood slowly darkens. With a rumbling in the background, he conjures up “horns as loud as war that tore apart the sky”, turning to biblical imagery of Noah’s flood before gloomily concluding, “In the end they all went the same way”. The lack of an apocalyptic backdrop does nothing to lessen either song’s impact.
In just the span of a pandemic, Brian appears to have renounced Mixing Colours’ escapist tendencies, his agenda now not only more pressing but also grounded in reality. This isn’t without precedent: at points, 2005’s Another Day On Earth tackled terrorism and 2016’s The Ship addressed war, and with their emphasis on vocals, those albums also arguably represent this new work’s most obvious musical forerunners. But the man sometimes known as Brain One has now, if maybe grudgingly, accepted that a compassionate, intimate, less cerebral approach may be more effective at urgently conveying the dismal ramifications of the climate emergency to which many of us, some wilfully, seem oblivious.
FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE therefore makes little attempt to refashion the world in either a flattering or reassuring light, instead documenting a thoughtful, candid response to our environment’s increasingly rapid disintegration. He calls this “an exploration of his feelings”, and any influence he seeks is emotional. Avoiding sentimentality, this quality unexpectedly turns out to be vital to the album’s success.
At times, like Mixing Colours, FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE invites us to revel warmheartedly in the magic surrounding us, whether in broad brushstrokes, recalling the “last light from that old sun”, a possibly nostalgic allusion to Frankie Laine’s “Lucky Old Sun” on the sparse, subdued, jazz-inflected “Sherry”, or zooming in with wonder on nematodes early in “Who Gives A Thought”. As he puts it at the start of “We Let It In”, a brooding but beautiful lullaby whose synths breathe and growl like living creatures, “The soul of it is running gay / With open arms through golden fields”.
This awe at nature isn’t only lyrically conveyed. Perhaps the most powerful weapon Eno now possesses is his still-underrated voice, which he employs here admirably to communicate the feelings at FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE’s heart. These aren’t the playful, sometimes processed, chameleon-esque strains of Before And After Science, though voices are occasionally treated, including his daughter Darla’s on “I’m Hardly Me” and his own on “Garden Of Stars”, where its faintly robotic character advances an already unsettling tone. Mostly his register, deepened by age, is luxuriously lugubrious, as it was on The Ship. Sometimes he’s light and consoling (“Sherry”, “Icarus Or Blériot”), at others almost choral (“We Let It In”, the hymnal “These Small Noises” with Jon Hopkins). On the introductory “Who Gives A Thought” and the nebulous “I’m Hardly Me” he even makes a convincing Ratpack crooner.
His velvet pipes and gracious harmonies, however, can’t hide how, befitting its themes of imminent catastrophe, this is frequently uneasy listening. “We Let It In”‘s “golden fields” end “in gorgeous flame” and, for all its glorification of creation, “Who Gives A Thought” encapsulates the contrasting melancholy in which the album’s drenched. “There isn’t time these days for microscopic worms”, Brian continues forlornly of those nematodes, his melody descending like a sigh, “or for unstudied germs of no commercial worth”. If he begins by humming his notes as though lying in a hot bath, lavish swathes of synths and Abrahams’ hazy guitars are soon disturbed by a random, percussive knocking – like water slapping the side of a creaking, sinking boat – and snatches of unearthly radio signals. By the time a wistful solo trumpet punctures this mournful ocean of sound, the song’s undeniable elegance has been holed by regret beneath the water line.
Something comparable could be said of “Icarus Or Blériot”, whose title, nodding to the mythical Greek who flew too close to the sun and the French aviator who was first to cross the Channel, extends a philosophical question posed insistently, and more directly: “Who are we?” and, later, pointedly, “Who were we?” Though its pulsing synths sound like distant planes and Abrahams’ guitars might suit today’s ambient Americana, any prettiness is undermined by unresolved tension and a scattering of brief bursts of dissonance.
Admittedly it’s among the more peaceful tracks, and not the only one loosely indebted to his earlier ambient excursions. Most of these “songs” are amorphous, devoid of rhythm, held together by Eno’s melodies, and each side closes with an instrumental (of sorts). The celestial “Inclusion” ebbs and flows on a current of Roxy associate Marina Moore’s strings, and “Making Gardens Out Of Silence” is an eight-minute piece of generative music commissioned for the Serpentine Gallery’s ongoing Back To Earth project, its distorted, pitch-shifted voices echoing through one of his more traditional soundscapes. It’s less a finale than a swansong.
This, surely, is by design. That FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE’s Greek harbingers were chilling offered little comfort beneath the country’s sweltering skies, and a year later the album’s troubling sentiments have only become more indispensable. Brian could have chosen to hector us, but instead reminds us of all we stand to lose while offering
a flavour of our inevitably forthcoming grief. Certainly, the atmosphere’s unnerving, almost bleak, but it’s even more inspiring, and most of all poignant. If this turns out to be our planet’s bittersweet requiem, we’ll have only ourselves to blame. At least we’ll go down singing these strange, haunting elegies. Foreverandever? Amen.