PopMatters JULY 29, 2004 - by John Davidson


Here Comes the Music Theorist

The difference between high art and low art is that low art is unafraid to appeal to the senses, and high art is suspicious of the delicious, as if one were being seduced for impure reasons - Brian Eno

Brian Eno, for example, he takes pieces of low art and elevates them to high art, and I do exactly the opposite, I take pieces of high art and demean them to low vulgarity, which is why we work so well together - David Bowie

Here Come The Warm Jets is the sound of a man without an instrument, marching to the beat of his own drum. It's an artist shedding his epidermis, freeing himself from constraints within the most successful avant-garde art band of its day. It's where Eno goes solo, ditches Roxy, and begins scaling the bridge between low and high art. It's also, incidentally, a pretty fine pop album.

Echoes of future music are littered throughout Here Come The Warm Jets (named after Eno's description of the guitar sound he wanted on the title track). Most obviously, there's a suggestion of Eno's later work on "Heroes" with Bowie and guitarist Robert Fripp, and art-guitar guru Fripp also provides a jagged solo on Baby's On Fire that serves as preview for Bowie's Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) half-a-dozen years later. In a more recent context, there are such strong intimations of Radiohead that one almost wonders why a collaboration between Eno and Yorke/Greenwood hasn't yet materialized. Each is interested in the deconstruction of pop songs, and in rebuilding those songs making use of abstract electronic manipulations. If you're interested in mid-period Radiohead, you might begin the search for antecedents here.

In fact, Thom Yorke covered Eno-era Roxy for The Velvet Goldmine soundtrack (browsing the mechanics from the inside?), and both he and Eno share a sometimes nonsensical approach to lyrics. Eno often utilizes words for their sound rather than for their meaning, which isn't to suggest that his songs are entirely without narrative content, only that the focus isn't on narrative structure. Eno imagines voice as instrumentation, like a drum beat or a guitar riff, and finding plot links in these songs is like trying to solve a cryptic puzzle or working through a maze. The satisfaction isn't in the solution; it's in the process of searching.

Much has been made of Eno's intellectual approach to creating music, but then he had no formal music training to speak of. At the time of this album he was scarcely able to play an instrument, and his credits on the liner notes read thus: "Eno sings all other vocals and (occasionally) plays simplistic keyboards, snake guitar, electric larynx and synthesizer, and treats other instruments." Precisely what he treats them with beyond love and curiosity is unclear, but there you have it. The miracle of this record is that an untrained conductor/composer was able to craft such a multitude of catchy pop tracks, with moods that vary substantially - from the glam-pop pomp of Baby's On Fire to the wistful dreamy serenade of On Some Distant Beach, from the vocal cacophony of Blank Frank to the dark comic dirge of Dead Finks Don't Talk.

There's a vibrant sense of humor throughout the album too, in much the sense that wit is an inherent part of surrealism. When you deliberately court the absurd or any confluence of opposites, there's generally amusement, either from shock or sympathy. And yet for all of its experimental edge, Here Come The Warm Jets is widely regarded as the most approachable of Eno's early solo offerings. It comes now as part of a re-mastered series spanning (so far) Eno's first four albums, and more than any of them, this perhaps is the one to look at for reasons that extend beyond mere influence... it's worth playing for the simpler, more pure fun of listening.