INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Wire FEBRUARY 2015 - by Joseph Stannard
BRIAN ENO: NERVE NET / NEROLI / THE SHUTOV ASSEMBLY / THE DROP
These four remastered and expanded albums represent the last flowering of a once formidable creative force. Brian Eno's output has been variable over the past decade or so, the song-based Another Day On Earth and his Warp debut Small Craft On A Milk Sea carrying a decidedly autumnal feel, while various collaborations and installation works have seldom been as substantial as his quietly revolutionary releases of the early 1970s onwards.
If 1992's largely rhythmic Nerve Net was conceived as an answer to house and techno, then it's not a particularly convincing one, sounding more dated than any of the rave tracks that circulated at the time. Nevertheless, it's an interesting album. Born from the ashes of an earlier, withdrawn project, My Squelchy Life, whose missing tracks are appended to this edition, Nerve Net is a moodier and less whimsical listen, several pieces brooding in a manner unheard since 1982's On Land. Eno devotees tend to ignore or rationalise his involvement with U2, but it's undeniable that some of the initiatives taken here - the clattering beats of Fractal Zoom and What Actually Happened? for example - later fed into the Irish group's 1993 album Zooropa, probably the last genuinely fruitful instance of Eno as mainstream rock meddler.
Of the more classically ambient albums in this reissue campaign, 1992's The Shutov Assembly is more sinister than reflective, and the strongest of the four. It was remarked at the time that these pieces harked back to the atmospheric instrumentals on Bowie's Low and "Heroes". This is broadly accurate. The tracks progress through convergences and shifts distinct from the contemplative drift of 1993's Neroli, an acceptable enough roll of sonic wallpaper bested by previously unreleased bonus drone New Space Music. By contrast, The Shutov Assembly comes across more like a series of enfolding environments, virtual locations to be explored and inhabited, rather like the Neuköln and Moss Garden of "Heroes".
The Drop (1997) continues to tap the vein of ersatz jazz that ran through Nerve Net with occasionally diverting results (some of which have more than a whiff of David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti about them) but the more attractive pieces are those which find Eno retreating to his amniotic comfort zone.