INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Independent.ie JANUARY 8, 2017 - by John Meagher
BOLD AND BRILLIANT LIFE OF BRIAN
Not many would release an album boasting just one track and weighing in at fifty-four minutes, but few artists are as doggedly single-minded as Brian Eno. His latest offering, Reflection, does just that.
It's a beautifully understated, meditative album to provide the gentlest possible start to our new music listening for 2017. This being Eno, there's real innovation, too - a version, released as an app, endlessly 'rewrites' itself. It's being billed as the first endless album which, I suppose, it is.
If 2016 was the year in which we paid tribute to all those greats who departed, maybe this year we could look anew at those giants who are not just with us, but continually adding to the vast sonic tapestry. And, over the course of more than forty years, Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno has truly cast a spell.
Let me count the ways, chronologically, how Eno has worked his magic:
1 He helped make Roxy Music become the great British art-rock band of the 1970s. He may have only been involved in their first two glam-tinged albums, providing synthesizer, 'tape effects' and backing vocals, but what a thrilling pair with which to announce yourself to the world. Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure didn't just provide a template for how Bryan Ferry et al would go about their business for the remainder of the decade, but inspired many of the bands who came after.
2 Eno delivered one of the 1970s most singular albums in Another Green World. Nothing else sounded like it on its 1975 release and its eerie, often foreboding, tracks remain staples to soundtrack sobering documentaries. Want an unsettling piece of music for your Prime Time special on, say, planning skulduggery? Look no further than Another Green World.
3 For a man whose career enjoyed several purple patches, David Bowie's so-called Berlin trilogy - Low, "Heroes" and Lodger - remain particularly special. And Eno certainly played his part. He co-wrote a number of songs, including Low's glorious Warszawa and introduced Bowie to a mix-and-match technique he dubbed 'Oblique Strategies'. Bowie later said it helped boost his creativity.
4 Eno essentially invented the genre we now know as ambient in 1978, with Music For Airports, or to give it its full title, Ambient 1: Music For Airports. At the time, he envisaged the album as a sound installation to make airports more aurally pleasing places - and it was used at New York's La Guardia airport. But, like so much of Eno's more esoteric creations, it stands up superbly as an album in its own right.
5 He has long been regarded as one of the world's greatest producers and in the late 1970s, he produced albums from Ultravox, Devo and Talking Heads. His collaboration with the latter band began with their second album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, and included their most emblematic album, Remain In Light.
6 In Talking Heads mainman David Byrne, Eno met a similarly creative spirit and the two collaborated quite spectacularly on 1981's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Its fusion of found sounds, Middle Eastern and African music with Western influences, would prove to be hugely influential. The pair would collaborate again in 2008 on another fine album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
7 Eno has been prolific and Reflection is his nineteenth solo studio album. But what's his best? For my money, 1983's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is hard to beat. Originally recorded for Al Reinert's space exploration documentary, For All Mankind (a swooning work that would finally be released in 1989), the music is uncommonly lovely. The serene An Ending (Ascent) is one of the most beautiful tracks ever recorded.
8 When U2 worked on following up War, Bono reportedly wanted German producer Conny Plank, but his wish was not reciprocated. What fortune for the Dubliner, then, that Eno said yes. His sublime production on The Unforgettable Fire added an artful edge to U2 and Eno played an enormous part in helping to craft the bulk of the band's albums to date, not least 1991's Achtung Baby. Eno was also a fully fledged member of Passengers, the U2 side project behind 1995's Original Soundtracks 1.
9 As an art-school graduate, it's little surprise that Eno has long been as passionate about visual art as he has been about music. In 2007, he fused that love with a long-standing interest in technology when he released 77 Million Paintings, a digital art software package named after the number of unique combinations of video and music it's capable of generating.
10 Eno has frequently offered the middle finger to the cool police. Sure, he has collaborated with scores of leftfield musicians/artists, including Gavin Bryars, Jon Hopkins, Rick Holland and Karl Hyde, but he's never been afraid to dip his toe into very commercial waters. He produced a handful of Coldplay albums and played that rousing synth on Viva La Vida and he also co-wrote Grafton Street, the emotional high water mark of Dido's third album, Safe Trip Home. But even the most avowed Enophile was uttering WTF? when they learnt that he had co-written a track with Jason Donovan. Let's just say that the resulting effort, Nobody But Me - an iTunes bonus song for the Let It Be Me album is not one of Eno's better efforts. But even Gods have their off days, right?