"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Word AUGUST 2005 - by Andy Gill
SLICE OF BRIAN
19 corking highlights of the Eno catalogue - chosen by Andy Gill
1 Roxy Music Virginia Plain (from Roxy Music, 1972): Rarely has a band's opening salvo sounded quite so dynamic, so familiar and yet so confidently other-worldy. The sound of rock and roll being dragged kicking and screaming into a sleek, shiny future - the musical equivalent of a jet-pack.
2 Fripp & Eno The Heavenly Music Corporation (from No Pussyfooting, 1973): Eno's first attempt to bring the avant-garde unashamedly into rock music, this adaptation of the minimalist experiments of Terry Riley and La Monte Young involved him applying treatments to Robert Fripp's guitar parts - a rare example of two musicians playing one instrument.
3 Eno Needles In The Camel's Eye (from Here Come The Warm Jets, 1974):Eno's solo career opened in thrilling fashion with this slice of chugging rock minimalism, which bowls along like The Velvet Underground at the fairground. Nonsensical lyrics, ironic guitar scales, and no fewer than four brief bursts of silence contribute to one of the strangest pop songs of its era.
4 Eno Baby's On Fire (from Here Come The Warm Jets, 1974): Surfing along ecstatically over the bubbling synths, Robert Fripp's blistering guitar solo - perhaps the finest moment of his career - is the star turn of this standout track from Eno's debut, igniting the droll, punning lyric into something more genuinely disturbing.
5 Eno Another Green World (from Another Green World, 1975): Minute for minute, this has probably been the steadiest earner in Eno's catalogue, through its use as the theme for BBC TV's Arena. A simple but effective statement of a typically languid Eno motif.
6 Gavin Bryars Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (from The Sinking Of The Titanic 1975): The single greatest success of Eno's foray into arts patronage was Gavin Bryars' absorbing debut album for his Obscure label, two side-long pieces including this extraordinary composition built around a loop of a singing tramp. Starting acapella, instrumental parts are slowly faded in one by one until the pathetic performance accrues an almost saintly grandeur.
7 Brian Eno Discreet Music (from Discreet Music, 1975): Eno's great breakthrough in ambient music, a system piece in which two brief melodic fragments are expanded into a half-hour's music by the use of long delays and loops, with minimal subsequent input by the performer.
8 David Bowie Warszawa (from Low, 1976): ready-made for Bowie's improvised wordless vocals, Eno's crepuscular keyboard ruminations cast a melancholy but noble shadow of East European entropy across the first of Bowie's Berlin trilogy of albums.
9 Brian Eno King's Lead Hat (from Before And After Science, 1977): Sprightly new-wave pop tribute to Talking Heads (of which the title is an anagram), with a tuneful discordancy and wonderfully absurdist, punning lyrics (eg. The killer cycles / The killer hurts / The passage of my life is measured out in shirts). In retrospect, it recalls early Roxy, too.
11 Brian Eno 1/1 (from Music For Airports, 1979): The first of Eno's experiments in environmental music - with which he attempted to upgrade the notion of background muzak to something less disposable - has become the landmark example of ambient music. This opening section is built around a suitably unimposing piano part played by Robert Wyatt.
12 Talking Heads Once In A Lifetime (from Remain In Light, 1980): And you may yourself... helping transform a stiff, artsy new-wave band into the funkiest white folk of their era - and adding your best backing vocals to the chorus, too.
13 Brian Eno & David Byrne America Is Waiting (from My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, 1981): Opening cut from an album which even Public Enemy's Bomb Squad production team acknowledged as the great breakthrough in sampling aesthetics. Unfortunately, E&B's innocent incorporation of bible-thumpers and koran readings into their montages drew legal flak from various parts of the religious spectrum.
14 Brian Eno Thursday Afternoon (from Thursday Afternoon, 1987): The first-ever CD-only release, because Eno wanted the sixty-one minute piece to play without interruption. Recorded with brother Roger and Daniel Lanois, it's a calm, slowly-shifting landscape of the same few elements, like sand-dunes creeping imperceptibly across a desert.
15 Eno / Cale Spinning Away (from Wrong Way Up, 1990): An unexpected return to straight-ahead pop on this highlight of Eno's collaboration with John Cale, which blends funky rhythm guitar and soaring strings behind Eno's most uplifting vocals.
16 U2 One (from Achtung Baby, 1991): The landmark anthem from an album which represented the high-point of Eno's production work with U2 - by this time, his contribution had extended to a combination of morale-boosting, winnowing out the unnecessary, provoking reactions, and perhaps his most brilliant production strategy, sending the band on holiday.
17 Brian Eno Fractal Zoom (from Nerve Net, 1992): A nervy, up-tempo piece in which swells of synthesizer sound crest and break over a rhythm matrix of tight funk drums and what sounds like a cricket break-dancing. A good evocation of the album's title, with an effect rather like bring bounced around on a rhythm trampoline.
18 Brian Eno Neroli (from Neroli, 1993): Another CD-length piece, this one created by looping a two-minute melody through a keyboard that has been split into several pitch ranges, each of which play back at different speeds, so the lower notes repeat more slowly than the high ones. One of Eno's most successful attempts at humanised systems music, it has apparently been used to soothe a lot of people through childbirth.
19 Brian Eno And Then So Clear (from Another Day On Earth, 2005): The loveliest track from his first album of songs in ages, a haunting, serene blend of gently throbbing keyboard textures and Eno's high, octave-shifted vocoder vocal. This could be the most successful rapprochement he has yet achieved between his pop and ambient inclinations.