Treble JUNE 20, 2004 - by Jeff Terich


Truly Great

The majority of Brian Eno's solo career was spent creating atmospheric electronic music, his name ultimately becoming synonymous with "ambient". Starting with Another Green World, Eno went from glam-influenced pop music to simpler, minimalist electro. Though his fourth and final "pop" album, Before And After Science, is an audible turning point in Eno's career. Not quite fully immersed in ambient music, Brian Eno was beginning to move away from traditional rock music to explore new textures. But half the album still consists of proper pop songs, as he must not have been quite ready to abandon pop song structure completely.

Before And After Science was released in 1977, the same year as "Heroes" and Low, two of Eno's collaborations with David Bowie. And in many ways, Science is very similar to both of those albums. Like Bowie's classic recordings, the album is bipolar, veering between ambient instrumentals and traditional pop songs. If it were to draw a comparison to one over the other, Science definitely sounds a lot more similar to Low in that the songs tend to be a little shorter. And unlike "Heroes", there aren't any majestic rock anthems.

That said, Before And After Science has no flaws. Conceived as an experiment in "studio composition," the songs on the album were recorded and assembled in dense layers, then subsequently deconstructed. Once the tracks were built up, Eno would systematically remove parts for added effect. Though the finished product doesn't reveal much about the recording technique, the album is quite an enjoyable listen.

When Eno does pop, he does no wrong. The opening track, No One Receiving, is one of the funkiest pieces of music Eno has ever done, short of his work with Talking Heads. It's a simple song, grooving on simple guitar chords, heavy bass and syncopated drum fills, supplied by none other than Phil Collins. (Just in case you're wondering, there was a time when he wasn't a complete hack.) The next song, Backwater, is reminiscent of styles found on Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). It's a theatrical piano-driven pop song, catchy and weird, like only Eno can be.

King's Lead Hat is straightforward and rocking, but altogether silly, containing nonsensical couplets like "splish splash / we were raking in the cash." And By This River, later covered by San Diego favorites Three Mile Pilot, is dark and moody. It shares a lot in common with Eno's instrumental work on Another Green World, yet it's one of the album's vocal tracks. And furthermore, it just may be the prettiest song Eno ever wrote.

The rest of the album, however, consists of moody, ambient pieces. Though many of them can be stark and eerie, Eno always gravitated toward warmer synth textures, resulting in an ultimately accessible and comforting electronic sound, something that few Roland Jockeys today can claim.

After Science (no pun intended), Eno created many electronic albums, ranging from Music For Airports to Music For Films. And while he was at it, he produced three Talking Heads albums (the three best ones, I might add) and collaborated with David Byrne a few times, most notably on the sample-heavy My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. He never really went back to standard pop music, but his four excursions in songwriting were strong enough to rival any other band's. And though Before And After Science wasn't a fully realised pop album through and through, it's a timeless album regardless and a fitting farewell Eno's status as pop songwriting genius.