Flesh and Machine
Here’s Daniel Lanois playing the studio, putting almost every kind of “Daniel Lanois” down in one studio album. It might lack the songwriting of some of your favourite Lanois singer/songwriter moments but to me it’s his career-in-microcosm, the guitar squall of his soundtrack work (The End), the sinewy grooves of Black Dub (The End) even heading back to his moods and modes with Eno (Space Love). That weird and wonderful country-guitar-in-space sound, the howling storms of delay-fire, the vision of a man rocking the console back and forth, searching underneath it and all around it for the
sound – always aiming for the sound, a new sound, or a reminder of something from his past. It’s all here – moments from across Lanois’ landscape.
You could almost choose to hear Flesh and Machine as a brand new imagined Greatest Hits. Sure there’s no ‘hits’ here as such, no songs even – but you hear the versions of sound, the varieties of sound he’s spent a career conjuring, mad dashes of frantic noise, that liquid guitar sound, the tranquil piano chords, that shade-cloth draped over the music, a thin hue of atmosphere added across the notes, coating the sound, coaxing it on…
Plus, I’ve always thought that Lanois does it best as instrumentalist – which is not to say I don’t like his voice, or his songs – I do. But the real grit comes from the way he places instruments – the alignment, their place in the frame. And anyway, it’s no great departure, the instrumental focus has always been there – much of Flesh and Machine is similar to Belladonna’s mood and flow, but with the added intensity of skittish techno scatterings (Opera) and then a return, once again I think of the Eno/Apollo world/s, to that underwater sound where Lanois’ pedal steel floats and glides and seeks its own space. The closing brace of Aquatic and Forest City provide crucial highlights, Aquatic’s penultimate track offering an eel-like eeriness and hint of danger and then the shadowy coda of Forest City, hints – always – of a serenity masking/masked by uncertainty.