Rolling Stone NOVEMBER 2001 - by Chris Johnston


Here Come The Warm Jets / Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) / Another Green World / Before And After Science / Discreet Music / Music For Films / Music For Airports / On Land / Apollo / Thursday Afternoon / Desert Island Selection - from post-Roxy art-pop to latter-day ambience, wayward British genius is re-issued.

An eleven-album re-issue of music by Brian Eno, a genuine pioneer of the modern era, and where to begin? At the beginning with Roxy Music, in England around 1970. He was a founding member, the skull-like one with the crazy silver hair. He was also the one who left soon after, in 1973, glammed-up but displeased with band's move toward easy pop. And this is where the outsider enters. For the next twelve years Eno would continue, on the outside, looking in. The eleven albums he made in this period would change the course of music forever.

He's the classic outsider in a way: the musician that other musicians adore, the one whom they listened to take their leads. Hence the influence. They listened and they learned. Much of the material from the crucial Eno period of '73 to '85 is difficult, challenging and obscure, no question. The bizarre changes of foundation within, the lyrical flights-of-fancy, the surrealism, the wild experiments with now-common devices such as sampling, ambience and guitar manipulation. Through all this Eno most directly influenced the art-rockers; his characteristic sound has been very evident, most recently, within Radiohead.

During this incredibly rich, inspired era, Eno co-piloted David Bowie's deepest and most notable trilogy: Low, "Heroes" and Lodger, guiding the '70s to a close. He also produced Television, Devo and Talking Heads, spear-heading New Wave. Then there were the enduring, masterful collaborations with John Cale, Robert Fripp, Daniel Lanois, Michael Brook, his pianist brother Roger Eno, his ex-Roxy Music mate, guitarist Phil Manzanera, and U2.

Now comes the re-issue, on the back of his new album Drawn From Life, and it is basically split in two the strange rock music and the strange ambient music. The strange rock begins with the early '70s sets Here Come The Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), both blue-printing the primal indie-sound, which still endures, but twisted and contorted by Eno into a brilliant puzzle. At this point it was pretty much guitar, bass, drums and keys but manipulated in peculiar, magical ways. By the mid '70s, with Another Green World then Before And After Science, Eno had discovered yet more was possible: mad fusions, stillness, trance and percussion. Another Green World sounds like an English folk record, such is its grace. But the Eno alien sound was emerging. Before And After Science comes over like space-funk, a shimmering, awkward electro-rock, trance-like, jazzy and African all at once, at least twenty years ahead of its time.

Then he went quiet. Very, very quiet. Discreet Music, a thirty-minute tonal interpretation of Johann Pachelbel, was music where nothing at all happened, marking the start of Eno's celebrated ambient phase. He explored perfect stillness, reprising John Cage's 1930s ideas about the background and about the noise of the audience being the real concert. Eno worked at it within loosely intellectual concepts Music For Films, Music For Airports (both 1978), On Land (1982), Apollo (1983) and Thursday Afternoon (1985). Apollo is possibly the finest; an imaginary soundtrack to the lunar landing, a dark hole of single notes punctuated by Daniel Lanois' glistening guitars. Thursday Afternoon is the culmination of his ambient craftsmanship, a single 61-minute track of glistening, studio-crafted peace. This is music that is not just music. Executed like this it becomes part of the environment, whatever environment it happens to be in: the room, the air, the wind and the time.

Now fifty-two, Eno has settled into a role of cultural theorist, Internet identity, philosopher and occasional musician. But far from settling into the mainstream he's still a maverick, still the loner, still the man with the head full of crazy ideas, gazing and working from an outsider's stance. His re-issued material is like an archive of a wayward genius.