INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Rolling Stone JUNE 5, 1986 - by Rob Tannenbaum
BRIAN ENO: MORE BLANK THAN FRANK
After Brian Eno left Roxy Music 1973, he made four prophetic rock albums that incorporated unbalanced rhythms, random synthesizer noises, minimalist drones and whimsical, oblique lyrics within traditional song structures. By 1977, when the effect of these experiments began to ripple through punk and New Wave circles, Eno had already virtually abandoned skewed pop for longer instrumental pieces. For the next two years, he was a musician of enormous influence, collaborating with David Bowie and producing records with Talking Heads, Devo and Ultravox as well as several New York No Wave bands.
More Blank Than Frank collects ten tracks from Eno's mid-'70s period as an audio accompaniment to More Dark Than Shark, a book of illustrations inspired by his songs. "Instead of trying to compile a representative sample, an historical archive or a best of," Eno explains in the notes on the back of the album jacket, "I just put together a record I'd like to listen to." The breadth of Eno's accomplishments can only be represented by a major retrospective, such as the eleven-record boxed set Working Backwards, and More Blank Than Frank inevitably suffers from the absence of such dazzling work as Baby's On Fire and Third Uncle. This record, though, wisely focuses on the warmth and accessibility of Eno's work.
The songs on side one, to paraphrase Here He Comes, use atmosphere to "rise above reason" and anticipate Eno's continuing fascination with ambient music. Inspired by The Velvet Underground, he accepted the limitations of his musicianship and constructed avant-garde pop, sometimes with just two chords. On Everything Merges With The Night and On Some Faraway Beach, he orchestrates the simplest of progressions into pastoral lullabies. On side two, Eno showcases his livelier, polyrhythmic material, three of the five songs taken from the first side of Before And After Science. King's Lead Hat - note the anagram hidden in the title - predates Talking Heads' African experiments by several years, and the random lyrics ("The killer cycles, the killer hurts / The passage of my life is measured out in shirts") and the ricocheting, metallic dance beat suggest the mutual indebtedness of Talking Heads and Eno.
Because his albums were sequenced so carefully, a compilation such as this shortchanges the unity of Eno's work. Taking Tiger Mountain, for example, worked better as the becalmed coda to the treacherous album of the same name than it does here in its edited form. Consequently, this record is of small interest to dedicated fans. But Eno's '70s work is essential listening for anyone who wants to understand the historical context of '80s new music, and More Blank Than Frank is a good place for novices to start.