Atmospheres in the home

A review of Ambient 4: On Land by Lynden Barber. Probably from NME.

To hell with public images. If the popular misconception of Eno as a cold, unfeeling egg-head wasn't totally smashed by his production of Remain In Light, then Ambient 4 should finish the job admirably. Bathing in a luxuriant glow, this is above all else sensual music.

The original aim behind the Ambient series was the building of a library of music for a variety of different moods. Far from being "muzak", ambient music had to "accommodate many levels of listening attention"; it had to be as ignorable as it was interesting.

Admirable intentions, but the first two records in the series never quite lived up to them. Music For Airports and The Plateaux Of Mirror could have been retitled "Music For Toilets" - the sounds of tinkling pianos echoed softly in a white-tiled atmosphere, fulfilling the first part of the ambient definition with ease but forgetting the vital second section. They were simply ignorable, period.

Day Of Radiance, the third in the series, fared better, but the first side failed to achieve any balance either. Laraaji's speeding zither patterns were too fascinating to fit the criteria, so interesting that they could never work as soothing background music if required.

In the meantime Eno's obviously been learning, refining his ideas and techniques, distilling them to a finer essence. On Land is not only the definitive album of the series, it's also easily one of Eno's finest achievements to date, a record of almost infinite subtlety that can, if needed, be used for late-night mood creation, or alternatively can seduce the attentive listener into a 3-D netherworld where anything seems about to happen but never actually does.

''Music For Films" has already been coined as a title, but it describes this record with far greater accuracy. On Land is less precious in tone and more consistent in mood than that album, continually hinting at nearby peril. It's threatening, edgy and unsafe - a soundtrack to"Halloween Three", perhaps, though rude shocks and crude deaths could ruin the niggling goosebumps of Eno's chilling tonescapes.

On casual hearing this music can seem unvarying and one-dimensional; not much appears to be going on, all appears relatively calm. Open its pores though, and you'll detect a welter of movement, a continually shifting sequence of cries and hums, creaks and shrieks, whispers, whistles and tinkles active deep below the tranquil surface. Consisting of eight pieces mostly played by Eno but helped out occasionally by extras including Michael Beinhorn and Bill Laswell from Material and old colleague Jon Hassell, On Land offers an embarrassment of atmospheric riches, sometimes evoking the familiar in a strangely unfamiliar way, at others spreading thick layers of alien other-worldliness.

Seek out.