Mojo FEBRUARY 2004 - by Mike Barnes


The renowned non-musician's finest non-music.

With Roxy Music, Brian Eno played synthesizer, operated tape-recorders and treated the group's instruments. On-stage, his role was also akin to a ship's figurehead, albeit one which resembled a pouting, preening alien. Being simply known as Eno at the time also helped cultivate a mystique. When he left the group in 1973, his fans could have been forgiven for thinking this outrageous character might disappear like many a glam tart. Instead, that same day he wrote the demi-classic, Baby's On Fire, and soon after recorded the tape-loop extravaganza, No Pussyfooting, with guitarist Robert Fripp. He toured with The Winkies later in that year - when he was pawed by adoring teenies - but then his lung collapsed and with it his ambitions of being a real pop star. Still, he had plenty of other things to keep him occupied, like becoming one of the most influential musicians and thinkers of his generation.

Brian Peter George St. John Le Baptiste De La Salle Eno started out a self-styled non-musician, although if his technical musical ability was limited, his imagination certainly was not. Since then he has become an ambient soundscaper and soundtrack writer, an installation builder and a conceptualist with a theory on virtually every aspect of of human activity and, if required, quite able to formulate one on the hoof. He has maintained a simultaneous involvement with rock and pop music with U2, Talking Heads and David Bowie among those who have benefited from his input as a producer, collaborator and creative catalyst.

A newcomer to Eno's solo recordings might expect an intellectually rigorous, forbidding body of work, but this is anything but the case. No amount of theorising, contextualising and pontificating on the composer's part alters the fact that almost all of his creations are vivid and impressionistic, and some are even romantic.

10 BRIAN ENO Here Come The Warm Jets

Compared with prog rock synth krakens of 1973, Eno's playing was outrageously inept. But no matter, his debut album was hallmarked by refreshing, primitive glam pop with some avant-garde garnishing, and featured members of Roxy Music and guitarist Chris Spedding. Keen to avoid cliché, he realigned generic rock lyrics into a sort of droll absurdism, delivered in camp, whining tones. Oh you headless chicken/Can your poor teeth take so much kicking? he asks on Dead Finks Don't Talk. All silly, but the songs win through by their irresistible energy.

9 BRIAN ENO Neroli

Longer. Slower. Sparser. Freed from the length restrictions of the vinyl album, Eno first stretched out into the time allowed by the CD format in 1987 with the hour-long Thursday Afternoon. From 1992, the equally lengthy Neroli, subtitled Thinking Music Part IV, goes even further into musical space. It consists of two sequences of long, hanging notes which almost imperceptibly shift apart from each other - rather like the piano works of composer Morton Feldman. The effect is so warm and womb-like, it's easy to forget it's on. Neroli has been the precursor to many an afternoon nap.

8 BRIAN ENO Nerve Net

Juju Space Jazz, the title of one of the tracks here, is actually quite an apt description of this album. An oddity in the Eno canon, it's one of his loudest records, full of gaudy horn sections, spiralling synths, treated vocals and some evil drum grooves. Originally conceived as My Squelchy Life, delays in that album's release frustrated Eno to the extent that he replaced a number of the tracks. One journalist who had got the wrong idea, bemoaned that it wasn't the Eno Acid House album he was expecting. But many were producing that, and only Eno was producing this.

7 ENO / CALE Wrong Way Up

Eno had worked with John Cale on and off since appearing on his 1974 album, Fear. But what has leaked out in interviews over the years is that during the sessions for Wrong Way Up they simply didn't get on. Not that you would think so from this bright electronic pop music, which finds both at their most melodic. Cale persuaded Eno to sing with more strength and he gives his best vocal performance on tracks like Spinning Away, and harmonises beautifully with Cale on One Word. Enjoy the fruits of this creative liaison because the odds on it happening again are long indeed.


What do you get avant-jazz band Material to play when they guest on your record? In the case of the opening track Lizard Point, so little they sound atomised. On Land was conceived as a set of tableaux to evoke specific places. But rather than being approximations of sunny, Arcadian landscapes, these sonic environments have a bleak beauty and, in the case of The Lost Day, carry a sense of elemental foreboding. Eno uses found and natural sounds as well as keyboards, also inviting along trumpeter Jon Hassell and guitarist Daniel Lanois.

5 BRIAN ENO Music For Films

This series of atmospheric vignettes was conceived of as shop window to directors. It worked: pieces were used by Derek Jarman in Jubilee and Sebastiane, and two cropped up as incidental music on a recent BBC2 Newsnight. A marvellous selection of miniatures, Eno's keyboards and atmospherics are augmented by musicians as diverse as John Cale, Fred Frith and, proving he was once hip, Phil Collins along with his buddy from Brand X, bass player Percy Jones. All these strong players were guided by mercurial touch and blended in seamlessly.

4 BRIAN ENO Before And After Science

One of Eno's most diverse albums, Before And After Science largely follows the format which impressed him on Bowie's Low: namely Side One fast, Side Two slow. Collins and Jones again play on the patchwork of mutated funk, bizarre pop songs and sonic collages of the first half - Kurt's Rejoinder includes a recording of Dadaist poet Kurt Schwitters. The second half, which features some of Eno's most languid songs, is like a soundtrack to a lost idyll. Julie With... is all lapping waves and heat haze while By This River features delicate keyboards by Moebius and Roedelius of Cluster.

3 BRIAN ENO - DAVID BYRNE My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

In 1980, Eno claimed he had a psychedelic vision of Africa. It was manifested in the NYC-style highlife grooves of Talking Heads' Remain In Light, which he produced and guested on. Here with David Byrne, Eno takes that style further, realising the ideas which came to him when he was holed up in New York listening to and recording broadcasts of exorcisms and radio evangelists. In this pre-sampling era, these were spliced together and mixed into super-tight grooves, forming a musical hybrid with few precedents. It still sounds extraordinary today.

2 BRIAN ENO Music For Airports

Ambient music had been around for years before Eno coined the phrase in 1978. From the Baroque Tafelmusik - music for eating - to Erik Satie's Furniture Music pieces, this was music not meant to intrude. Eno embraced this new muzak quite fearlessly, bandying the A word around while punk was still in the air. The mood here is set by the lengthy 1/1, based on a Robert Wyatt piano motif. Although designed to be purely background music, it's timeless and exquisitely beautiful in a way which belies its functional title. This hugely influential album's subtitle, Ambient 1, speaks for itself.

1 BRIAN ENO Another Green World

No one would make a record like this today - this is the sound of customised '70s technology, from treated rhythm boxes and tape effects to warm, fuzzy synth sounds and even a John Cageian prepared piano. These five songs and nine instrumental pieces carry a magic which is hard to explain. At times the listener feels like a lizard sunning itself on a rock, or someone peering in at a succession of erotic scenes. This is the album where Eno first came into his own as soundscaper and still feels, as the tile suggests, like a 41-minute glimpse of a parallel universe, a musical utopia.


Desert Island Selection [1987] is a solid greatest hits set of Eno's songs while those with more dosh might like to check out the beautifully, but expensive, box-sets, Brian Eno Vols 1 and 2 [1993]. The version of Music For Airports by New York ensemble Bang On A Can [1998] teases out yet more nuances from the piece, to the extent that the composer was reduced to tears on hearing it performed. Albums which bear the mark of Eno as producer and collaborator are manifold but the best, and those which he contributes most to, are David Bowie's Low [1976] and "Heroes" [1977] and Talking Heads' Fear Of Music [1979] and Remain In Light [1980].


Eno's output is diverse but remarkably consistent in quality. But even he claimed that most people who heard The Drop [1997] didn't like it. His collaboration with J. Peter Schwalm, Drawn From Life [2001], also sounds uncharacteristically uninspired.