INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Rip It Up NOVEMBER 1979 - by George Kay
AFTER ART SCHOOL
Brian Eno is one of a rare breed - a survivor, like his colleagues Bowie and Ferry, of the recent rock'n'roll transition and a man revered for his forward-thinking and electric imagination. He's lasted the pace because, like the aforementioned gents, he's not only a leader of sorts in his particular niche but he's also in possession of the prerequisite talent and contemporaneous outlook.
Educated in a religious environment until he was sixteen, he then studied at Ipswich and Winchester Art Schools where he formed his interest in avant garde music and cybernetics. Eno's public career can be dated from his collusion with Bryan Ferry, January 1971 to July 1973, on the first two Roxy Music milestones, and it's more than apparent his contributions were vital to the band's glossy ritziness. But Roxy was too small to contain the disparate abilities of both Ferry and Eno so the latter left after heated arguments and later that same year collaborated with Robert Fripp on No Pussyfooting.
Great things were expected of the man with the release of his first solo album proper, Here Come The Warm Jets, but despite the presence of gems like Blank Frank the album was something of an anti-climax. Never mind, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) followed quickly and made amends although even it was ridiculously underrated at the time
Eno has often referred to himself as a 'non-musician' and in many ways you can see what he means as he doesn't adhere to acceptable songwriting/arrangement norms or patterns. Tiger Mountain, like its predecessor, affirmed his belief in simplicity ("When I listen to my previous albums I am surprised by my confidence in simplicity") and highlighted his unusual songwriting abilities in the rock idiom. Because of his lack of a traditional rock background and his long-standing interest in electronic music, Eno's dabbling with rock have been very personalised and off-beat. He juxtaposes a variety of different elements. For example, on Tiger Mountain his everyday deadpan vocal drone, styled very much on Robert Wyatt's approach, is often urged along by some weird instrumental pairings: bagpipe synthesisers leading into a singalong on Back In Judy's Jungle and the nursery-rhyme qualities of Put A Straw Under Baby illustrate this eccentricity.
But Tiger Mountain is really Eno ruled by straightforward notions especially when Phil Manzanera strides out on Third Uncle and The True Wheel. The album ends on the tranquil note of the title track, a glimpse into the peacefulness of Another Green World. Tiger Mountain made its point and must be noticed.
Another Green World is really an aural landscape incorporating a balanced combination of the Two Sides of Eno - the man as vocalised rocker exemplified on Here Come The Warm Jets and Tiger Mountain and as expansive synthesiser instrumentalist later to find fruition on Low/"Heroes" and Music For Films.
Another Green World is a beautiful album in the true sense of that word: beginning with the atypical harshness of Sky Saw, Eno eases into melancholia in songs like St. Elmo's Fire (which boasts an authoritative guitar solo from Fripp), I'll Come Running and the quaint Golden Hours. Yet it's the pensive melodic instrumentals that steal the prizes, notably the hymn-like The Big Ship, Sombre Reptiles, Becalmed and the title track.
The album is the nearest thing Eno has recorded to a folk album and it's reminiscent of the pastoral pangs of the best of the Incredible String Band's earliest output. With the exception of Before And After Science, it is probably his most satisfying and complete album.
"At one extreme I am a singer/songwriter and at the other a sonic experimenter."
After the acclaimed Before And After Science and his well-documented contributions to Low/"Heroes", Eno released Music For Films last year. The album could have been more accurately title Music For Moving Picture Interludes as the contents are a collection of fragments, some of which have already been used in films and television programmes and others which are just begging to be snapped up as provoking soundtracks.
There are no bombastic grandiose film themes here riddled with cliched major chords, so forget the implications of the title, Music For Films, from that angle. Eno has used his electronic inquisitiveness to shape eighteen pieces of atmospheric instrumentation similar in texture to their counterparts on Another Green World and Low/"Heroes" but different in that they are more mood-orientated and less melody-conscious.
The album is Eno on his home ground creating what he feels he is best at - "contemporary electronics and recording technology without lapsing into quirky gimmickry that normally characterises this pursuit." Music For Films is rich in a diversity of tone and texture stretching from the crystal acoustic picking of Fred Frith on From The Same Hill to the chillingly mournful 'orchestral' mood of Sparrowfall 2 and 3. Music For Films, then, is an unqualified success, electronic music with purpose and discipline that easily avoids trivial gimmickry.
The same can't be said for Music For Airports, the first in a planned series of albums presenting music as an integrated part of a particular environment - in other words muzak. The problem is that this idea is contradictory to the concept of music as something to listen to. Consequently Music For Airports doesn't shape up under close scrutiny.
Robert Wyatt has collaborated with Eno on one track but his acoustic guitar is well-immersed in the cold linoleum arrangement. The album consists of four pieces, two using multi-tracked female vocals to provide an ethereal effect/backdrop for Eno's hesitant piano inclusions.
The album achieves what it sets out to do, that is the creation of a certain mood or atmospheric background, but for my money Eno is really cheapening himself on this venture no matter how grand or worthwhile he may believe his ambitions are.
So there you have it, four albums representing four stages or facets of someone called Brian Eno - rock as in Tiger Mountain, the fifty-fifty world of rock and instrumentation on Another Green World, the contemporary electronics of Music For Films and finally the wallpaper strategies of Music For Airports.
Take your pick.