He's given U2 the ambiance to match their soul-searching, Emmylou Harris the atmosphere to surround her angelic voice, Bob Dylan the perfect foil to create his best work in decades, and Peter Gabriel a palette for his passion. What Daniel Lanois hasn't done, though, is write an interesting album's worth of his own songs.
Too much of Shine, Lanois' third solo album and first in a decade, is the equivalent of perfect wallpaper in a room full of ugly, uncomfortable furniture. It sounds great, but there's nothing filling about it. Though Harris and Bono each join Lanois for tracks -- "Falling at Your Feet" was co-written with the U2 singer -- their presence is more reminder of how much better Lanois is on the other side of the recording equipment than a compliment to his songwriting.
Slow pacing, minimal instrumentation and flat song structures are the rule, and Lanois' limited vocal skills -- his delicate singing sounds like a frail Eric Clapton or a catatonic Dave Matthews -- mean melodies, emotions, and other things you'd like to hear in a song are at a minimum. Shine does excel when Lanois keeps quiet and lets rambling instrumentals speak for him, however. His first instrument was pedal steel, and its lonesome, watery sound colors the album, and unadorned on the plaintive "JJ Leaves LA" it's achingly sad. The wordless "Matador," with its droning, pulsing synths and slow and simple one-note-at-a-time piano melody, is spooky in a David Lynch soundtrack kind of way.
Yet throughout the record, Lanois allows mistakes such as the pseudo-reggae chagrin of "Power of One," which name-checks a Los Angeles neighborhood as his "Jamaica in L.A.," to outshine his craftier moments. There, and in other instances, Lanois the musician could use more help from Lanois the producer.
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