Mojo OCTOBER 2020 - by Jim Irvin


Two forgotten corners of the Eno catalogue dusted off.

Reading up on Brian Eno and John Cale making their 1990 collaboration Wrong Way Up, I was reminded of that scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where Baron Bombast of Vulgaria and his wife cavort around singing, "You're my little choochy face...", while he tries to murder her. There seemed to be something of the same curdled affection beneath outward harmony in the relationship between Eno and Cale. Both could come across as an imperious oddball who knew best. Eno called them "neighbouring principalities", an uneasy alliance involving "constant sorties across the frontier, occasional truces and treaties and occasional coincidences of purpose." The album, marking a return to singing for Eno for the first time since 1977's Before And After Science, was made at his "state-of-the-art, 1979" home studio in Suffolk. This one was to be on Eno's terms after their spiky participation on Cale's Words For The Dying the previous year. According to Eno, Cale displayed "flashes of genius between oceans of inattention." According to Cale, things became so tense that Eno came at him brandishing a chopstick in a clenched fist like a knife. Eno says that never happened.

Whatever the tensions, the music turned out better than it's remembered, if you can excuse Eno's fallible sound choices: the so-dated sounding-it's-surely-due-a-revival DX7 keyboard and the ever-clumpy Linn drum machine. The album dropped just as acid house, Madchester and the like were gripping the popular imagination, with our heroes left somewhat preaching to the choir, and it soon faded away. But in fact, it contains some of the best work either choochy face has done.

Opener Lay My Love is curiously mesmerising and Wicker Man spooky. "I am the termite of temptation... I am the wheel, I am the turning and I will lay my love on you," sings layers of Eno as the track - loops of clattering drums, clucking guitar and clavs and perky viola - dances round a maypole.

One Word, the most dated thing here, is not unlike something Eno might have done with Talking Heads, with Cale cast as David Byrne. Empty Frame has a similarly jaunty, dad-at-a-wedding-disco lope to late-period OMD. African-flavoured Spinning Away sounds like a forgotten hit. Footsteps finds Cale in a room full of loops indulging in a bit of psychogeography. "Somebody make me an offer, I gotta get away from here." On the pretty Cordoba, Cale sings random phrases Eno took from a Spanish/English phrase book, forming an enigmatic short story with most of the narrative removed, beginning, "Juan was sleeping under a tree. He wrote to me from Cordoba," and ending "I leave the parcel on the top deck..." as if an act of terrorism has just taken place.

On the closer, The River, Eno reveals a deep, moody vocal tone we didn't know he possessed, singing a surreal Lee Hazelwood kind of western tune over a looping Casiotone keyboard pattern and what sounds like autoharp.

What emerges is the sound of these two wary colleagues finding common ground in a hinterland, a record that, now removed from its original context, sounds sweetly eccentric and full of intriguing curio-stuffed corners. In 1995, Eno's cues for Derek Jarman film Glitterbug were passed along to John Wardle AKA Jah Wobble, whom put his warm, dubby imprint on them and invited the great Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit to provide his pushing, accented thing on a few tracks too. The results, released as Spinner, were partly ambient, partly propulsive, almost entirely instrumental, and wholly of their time. It's engaging enough but sometimes betrays its aimless origins. Both albums are back on expanded CD and vinyl.