You could believe – releasing this album just a couple of months after their first collaborative offering – that Brian Eno and Karl Hyde are lazily serving up the offcuts, the leftovers. But, actually, High Life was recorded – for the most part live – across one week. And it has a loose, flowing energy to it that Someday World just did not have.
It’s comprised of lengthy jam-based songs and – crucially – it sounds like Eno is trying. It also sounds far more like Eno’s record than Hyde’s. That’s not to say that Karl Hyde isn’t necessary here, his involvement has likely triggered a burst of energy from Eno at the least. But it’s fair to say that the best sounds here come from Eno, they hark back to some of his first “singer/songwriter” albums – and they recall his collaborative album with John Cale and of course the best of his early Byrne collaborations.
Return is the opener, nine minutes of a basic, repetitive strum-turned-drone from Hyde as Eno’s voice hides inside, eventually disappearing into the blur of the tune, the tune falling away into instrumental mantra – it’s that hypnotic, casually startling world that Eno has so often occupied. It’s a reminder of what he does so well – when he can in fact be bothered.
DBF is straight from the Talking Heads vibe, a nearly brutal shard of chicken-scratch funk guitar peeking in and out of a pulsating Afrobeat feel. Just the best. A joyous swirl of music – something to always get lost in. Something to celebrate.
High Life feels so organic, analog – but it’s not without its weak spots. Time To Waste It is a slow-bubbling African groove, akin to something Paul Simon might sing one of his short stories over, but here it just languishes – the momentum of the record all but stopped. It’s not a bad track, it just slows the feel and flow of the record. We pick back up with Lilac, but this one really does feel like a rehearsal jam – the darting punk-funk guitar going nowhere this time.
Moulded Life and Cells & Bells return the album to a glory we only ever heard a couple of times – fleetingly – with Someday World. The closing track, particularly, with a purposeful slow-energy to it, and perhaps the most-Underworld like moment across both albums.
High Life is really good for a lot of its run – and in this day and age we can of course make the super-album that both Eno & Hyde records tried, at one time or another, to be. We can take Daddy’s Car from Someday World and add it to this – take one or two songs off this, maybe even chuck in something from one of Eno’s other Warp albums. We have that power. We can make the truly wonderful record that Eno is part-making these days. But more encouraging is that here he really seems to be trying. Not coasting. Still seeking. Still searching.
It also suggests – rather overtly – that it is time for Eno and Byrne to get together again. They are forever to be drawn back to one another whether they like it or not.