The problem with Brian Eno’s recent music isn’t just that the sense of discovery and astonishment has vanished. One could forgive him for no longer outraging, shocking, marveling, or delighting, as he did with his early adventures into glam pop, his exquisitely fragmented instrumentals, generative ambient systems, or proto-sampling. How many artists who wowed us with a sense of the new when they were 25 still do so when they’re 63? But damn, that guy was smart and evidently aware of what he was doing and what was going on around him. Surely he knows now how middling his post-2000 music is? Does this fact bother him?
With one exception, Panic of Looking‘s six tracks are based on the poems of Rick Holland. Like Eno’s last album Drums Between the Bells, it features several singers besides him intoning Holland’s words. The one track without words is the most pointless thing here; the echo-laden keyboards on “Watch A Single Swallow In a Thermal Sky, And Try To Fit Its Motion, Or Figure Why It Flies” sound like something that someone wanting to sound like Eno — say, Bill Nelson or Japan’s Richard Barbieri — could have done without his help in 1981. I suppose it’s just there so he could slap that title on the record. And “West Bay,” which sets unobtrusive electronics behind Bronagh Gallagher’s solemn recital, isn’t much better; it’s just so damned obvious. Things improve slightly when the voice’s cadence sets the groove or shapes the melody. The title track at least feels fully realized, and conscious of creating an atmosphere rather than simply settling for sounding atmospheric. But this EP still feels like a small plate of leftovers from a meal that promised more than it delivered, as though Wolfgang Puck was on the can, not in the kitchen.