INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Slash NOVEMBER 1978 - by William L'Amato
BRIAN ENO: BEFORE AND AFTER SCIENCE
There's this story, see, about three blind old men who are feeling an elephant and trying to describe it. Pitifully near-sighted as they are, they assume that the little section each feels is actually the whole elephant. So they boast: "Ah, it is long and twisty like a penis," or "No, it is short and stocky like a fireplug," or "Nah, yer both wrong, it's small and puckered like a rolled surgical glove." Obviously, the poor bastards show more about their own handicaps than the elephant in question. So what happens when we find the writers at this magazine groping about in elephant shit and ignoring the elephant completely? We can't blame the elephant, that's for sure.
This is a review of a slightly aged elephant, crying for attention, and surrounded by frantic journalists up to their ears in elephant excrement.
Everybody's heard of Eno by now, but relatively few have heard his music (post-Roxy Music). The old farts at Rolling Stone find him too "obtuse" to rate more than a paragraph, and the (supposedly) hep and aware key-pushers at this rag ignore him - even though he is one of the most influential figures to the very music they profess to be listening to. Thus, he's been underground so long that his hair is falling out by the clump: an "avant-garde artist." But no longer! Enough of ignorance! If the old farts won't tell ya, then listen to me: Brian Eno is already the "next big thing"; Eno is the legitimate spearhead of the Sound Of The '80s (as exemplified by The Screamers, Devo, Residents, Kaftwerk, Fripp, etc.); Eno gets my vote for man of the year.
Why? Well, who else can you name who was responsible for a whole new Bowie tangent (Low/"Heroes"), started a humanistic record label (Obscure), produced two of the best albums of the year (Devo, Talking Heads), and put out a solo album, Before And After Science, that is the most charming experiment in techno-pop yet committed? If it is also his most commercial album, I can hardly fault him for it: Christ sakes, let's give the man some credit!
Like Bowie's Low, this album is surgically divided into starkly contrasting sides. Side One ("Before Science") sounds like drunk computers in a jungle clearing. Mutant disco patterns overlapping each other, tribal wars in syncopated precision - all interlaced with sci-fi washes and Eno's metallic voice singing of "The Blue Future", "Metal Waves," and the "Logistics of the Mystics." Side Two ("After Science") is an opiated cruise down the Rhine, slower than a heartbeat and lonely as a holiday in prison. The recurring images of metal, sound and water all seem to revolve around Eno's characters - but they are trapped by the tension-isolated and helpless, or jolly buffoons. A successful attempt at polyrhythmic pathos. Moves more than your feet.
Above all, Eno is human. He is no robot. Simple-minded critics may find his work logical, mechanical or distant - but it is in this very aspect that he transcends the kraftwerk player piano dead-end. Eno has a unique sensibility, to be sure, but he has a distinctive sensitivity as well. His work is always injected with bristling creativity, subtle wit, artistic sincerity and a natural flair for melody. Does a Brainiac have these attributes?? Even on this album - where Eno substitutes his earlier work's bizarre quirkiness for a sober attempt at perfection of technique - the result is always alive and involving. He tells you that no noise reduction techniques were used - yet the first thing that struck me was the ultra-clean production. For Eno, clean does not mean sterile. He is limited only by his ideas and not by an image. he is nearly unlimited. The old farts won't tell ya, listen to me.