You can hear bits of Daniel Lanois' past in his album "Flesh and Machine" (Anti-), but it's all in the service of building something new.
"Sioux Lookout," with its throbbing bass and world-beat rhythms, could have been on the last U2 album if Bono would have sung on it. And Peter Gabriel seems to have rubbed off on him in the making of the epic "The End."
However, "Flesh and Machine" comes into its own when Lanois begins to use human voices as instruments as part of the orchestra, rather than vocalists at the forefront. In "Opera," which feels like a lost Underworld track with its skittering, breakbeat rhythms, the choir of operatic voices adds another chilly layer to the mix. Lanois uses human voices like a string section in "Rocco," for what could be the clash of Radiohead and Philip Glass.
As he has been on his previous albums, Lanois is generally best when he's at his simplest. The spare, almost-frigid synths on "Iceland" make the fragile melody much more memorable, with the looping and fading effects making it seem like the beauty is disappearing before your eyes, um, well, ears. The simplicity of "My First Love" conjures up innocence and lightheartedness, though there is a sweet, space-age feel to it as well.
Previously, Lanois has taken us to the bayous of Cajun country in "Acadie" and the Emmylou Harris folk world in "Shine." On "Flesh and Machine," he gives us a peek into his creative mind.
"Flesh and Machine"
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THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Building a whole new world of sound