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Pitchfork AUGUST 21, 2020 - by Ben Cardew
BRIAN ENO/JAH WOBBLE: SPINNER
The newly reissued collaboration between Brian Eno and bassist Jah Wobble from 1995 is an outlier in both their catalogs, which is part and parcel of its allure.
Rather than simply releasing the music he had recorded for Derek Jarman's 1994 film Glitterbug, Brian Eno handed over the score to bassist Jah Wobble, encouraging him to do with it as he pleased, with the results released in 1995 as Spinner. Wobble - born John Wardle - wasn't any old bass player: His cavernous dub bass lines lifted Public Image Ltd. out of The Sex Pistols' considerable shadow. By 1994, he was an artist of some repute, having led his Invaders Of The Heart, a globe-trotting collective of musical mavericks, to the middle reaches of the British charts.
All the same, you can picture the flicker of delight that must have traced across Eno's brow when he received back his musical cues alternatively untouched (Garden Recalled), employed as the basis for entirely new tracks (Steam), and accompanied by Wobble's bass pressure (Like Organza). "I didn't even hear it all till it was finished," Eno told The Wire in September 1995 of Spinner's recording. "Everything that he [Wobble] put on, he produced. Anything you hear looming around in the back is probably what I produced..."
That "probably" is important. Spinner - which is being reissued in an expanded edition - fills an intriguingly permissive space in the Eno catalog, where he stepped back from his own strict editorial criteria and placed himself "in the hands of Jah." Spinner comes from synergy and collectivism rather than individual inspiration, an impression reinforced by this reissue, which adds Stravinsky (an original Eno track from the much bootlegged Glitterbug soundtrack) and Lockdown (a new song by Wobble) to the collected canon. Spinner is also an outlier in the Eno catalog for its pulsating low end, a rarity for a producer who was more audibly influenced by the spaces of dub rather than its bass textures.
Like Organza is the perfect example of how this musical tag-teaming works. Nothing much actually happens in the song: Eno (presumably) brings the chiming of a bell and a drone-y organ, to which Wobble adds a serpentine bass line, which curls around the melody like a warm dog's embrace. For two-and-three-quarter minutes, all is well in the world, as if the perfect harmony of bass and melody has temporarily restored cosmic stability.
At other times, Wobble's direction is notably more maximalist. On Unusual Balance he employs metallic guitar, drums locked in a haltering reggae two step, and the electrifying voice of Iranian-born vocalist Sussan Deyhim to create a dubbed-out Middle-Eastern space metal, while Eno's contribution is seemingly reduced to a few stray piano notes littered around the background. Transmitter And Trumpet, meanwhile, mixes up Can's Jaki Liebezeit on heavily-processed drums with other-worldly atmospherics; the tent-peg-solid three-note bassline balances this eight minutes of kosmische drift that sits somewhere between The Orb and Can's own adventure in reggae on 1976's Flow Motion.
The upshot of this wild collaborative fever is that Spinner's weaker numbers are those - like Garden Recalled and Space Diary 1 - where Eno's original work is left untouched, their glassy textures a little cold in comparison to the fervent musical madness around them. Given Wobble's work on the rest of this album, though, you trust him that these songs were better left untouched and Spinner's excellent sequencing allows them to serve as a palate cleanser between contrasting musical flavors.
Spinner's cosmopolitan influences and improbable origin means it often gets overlooked among the labyrinthine Eno catalog. It's not quite ambient; it's not exactly dub; it's not even really a Brian Eno production. And yet there is something invigorating in this album's refusal to conform. Eno, a man known for his career left-turns, cerebral innovation and nonconformist working attitudes, once called it "a very strange record". And coming from him, that's quite a compliment.