Country : United Kingdom Label : Text Records Genres and styles : Ambient / Ambient Pop / Electronic Year : 2023

Fred again… and Brian Eno – Secret Life

· by Varun Swarup

Secret Life, the much-anticipated effort from dance music wunderkind Fred again..and veteran producer Brian Eno, makes for a fantastically glib ambient release. While the album offers glimpses of each artist’s individual brilliance, it ultimately fails to weave their talents together into something truly compelling. In all fairness, the album does ask a lot of itself. With perhaps two of the biggest names in the history of electronic music gracing its cover, Secret Life doesn’t do well to manage expectations. Let’s be clear then, Secret Life is not a bad album, but it’s not a very good one either. 

Reviewing ambient music presents some unique challenges. Unlike more structured musical styles, this genre thrives on atmosphere, and in the absence of traditional parameters—harmony, rhythm, song structure, etc.—what makes an ambient release ‘good’ or not is the fidelity of its textures, the emotional depth of its world, the congruence of its elements, and the structure of its narrative. It is against most of these criteria that Secret Life regrettably falls flat. 

On the first point, this album clearly bears the mark of its makers. Brian Eno lays the foundation here with his gentle and ethereal soundscapes while Fred again… adds his sonic signature through vocal samples like the ones employed in his Actual Life series. The album actually sounds exactly like what you’d expect and thematically Secret Life plays out like a comedown album for the urban London youth of today—the album art tells us as much. I can very well see this release introducing a new generation to the work of Eno and to ambient music more generally, and I suspect younger audiences are the ones who will get the most out of Secret Life

One of the primary issues with Secret Life is its lack of a unifying sonic identity. The album seems to meander through a disjointed array of sounds and styles, making it difficult to establish a consistent mood or direction in this ambient fog. While primarily instrumental, the few vocal samples scattered throughout the tracks feel disconnected and inconsequential, failing to add depth or meaning to the compositions. Eno’s typically captivating ambient textures lack the depth and sophistication that have defined his previous work and Fred Again’s skittish sampling techniques come across as a bit too contrived for my liking.

While diversity can be a strength in collaborative works, here it feels more like a haphazard assortment of half-realized ideas than any sort of deliberate expression. For a comedown album, it feels more like a come-up album, as though each idea is drawing you to something that never quite arrives. Perhaps Secret Life would have best remained a secret. 

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