INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Seattle Weekly AUGUST 25 - 31, 2004 - by Jess Harvel
Brian Eno has done such a good job of disappearing up his own obliquely strategic ass over the last thirty years that you'd be hard-pressed to remember that he was once a writer of (excellent) songs. We're far more comfortable with him as a theorist and a pundit and sound gardener - yet here are the four albums he sang on, pesky reminders of his path not taken. None of them was really ever unavailable, and the old CDs still sound fine to me. These subtle remasters are a bit like transferring an etching from a piece of rice paper to Lucite. And the music is recommended to anyone who enjoys The Beatles, Gilberto Gil, Pavement, The Beta Band, or Timbaland: self-aware but never self-conscious pop songs with twists and invisible improvisations and funny noises.
Here Come The Warm Jets (1974) is the first, the glammiest, the rockingest, and the funniest. It opens with Needles In The Camel's Eye, which takes place in an alternate universe where Sterling Morrison played with The Crickets instead of The Velvet Underground, and ends with the title track's flatulent soundtrack triumphalism. The playing is impeccable, drawing on the cream of English prog-rock, from vocalist Robert Wyatt to King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp to, um, Genesis drummer Phil Collins. Eno's own inability to play anything other than the studio (he gave musicians instructions such as play like a Tesla coil) kept things unpredictable. Fripp's solo on Baby's On Fire is a series of Windsors and half-Windsors that never quite knot.
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974) is Eno's incontestable masterpiece. Some bands have spent their whole careers trying to remake Third Uncle, pre-emptory new wave so taut it might be the thrumming of the human nervous system itself. Eno was also mastering his instrument. What's the lead voice on Burning Airlines Give You So Much More? A zither played with tongs? A glass xylophone?
Eno melted into the studio entirely for 1975's Another Green World. This is the start of the program music, the ambient music, and all future product marked Eno. It contains a few songs, a few flashy moments (Fripp's solo on St. Elmo's Fire, not coincidentally the best of the songs), but mostly the album is moody synth vapor against a dark-woods backdrop. Soon after would come the ambient years (moody synth vapor as an end in itself), and his classic Bowie trilogy of Low, "Heroes", and Lodger (moody synth vapor under someone else's songs).
On his way there, he released 1977's Before And After Science, and no wonder it feels like an afterthought, though it contains King's Lead Hat, his nerviest rocker, and By This River, a dream combo of sleepy Stereolab and Arvo Part. Science is a failed masterpiece - for every No One Receiving, matte silver funk, there's a Here He Comes, a dull ballad. But setting the tone for the next thirty-odd years of semi-popular rock is a tough act to follow.