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"The biology of purpose keeps my nose above the surface"

Class B

Main Category: Mood Music
Also applicable: Art Rock, Pop Rock, Avantgarde, Meta-Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Brian Eno fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Brian Eno fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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If there is anybody in this world who could really penetrate into the very nature of SOUND itself and analyze it with the sharpest scalpel, yet leaving no traces of rude treatment upon its delicate soul, it is Mr Brian Eno. And note - I said SOUND, not MUSIC; for music, I still maintain the absolute superiority of the Beatles. But have you ever actually wondered what is the actual mechanism, how does the channel between musical notes and our ears work? What does music consist of? What makes a certain sound beautiful and another sound ugly? And did you ever try to admire the beauty of JUST ONE NOTE? In our everyday life, we're used to music consisting of hurried flurries of notes, be it slow or fast; Eno shows us that one note, if used cleverly enough, can be just as awe-inspiring as an entire complex, or catchy, melody...

But hey, away with the poetics. Whatever the golden praises, I must sorrowfully admit that Brian Eno is rarely given the due respect he deserves. For the most part, people know two things about him: (a) He produced tons and tons of bands and artists starting from the Seventies, and is in some way or other connected with pretty much every band that ever had an 'experimental' edge to it; (b) He has written half a million 'ambient' albums that all sound the same and all serve the same function - as a perfect insomnia cure.

I say that in such a bold manner because I'm human as well, and for a long time I was upholding the same idea. You know - thinking of Eno as a mighty synthesizer wizard, sitting somewhere in the gloom with his array of keyboards and adding a touch of 'Enotronics' to your music if you ask for it. Very nicely. And the records that I heard, the ones that shared their share of 'Enotronics', were always nice and attractive and all that, particularly the ones by David Bowie and the Talking Heads. However, the obvious question was: 'How is Eno really different from your average record producer?' After all, spicing up somebody's album with weird synth droning is one thing, and writing music is another. And what kind of music does Eno write himself? Ambient. That's right. Now here's one word to scare little children with. Boring, disgusting muzak with no dynamic power that serves no particular purpose; if we the listeners want atmosphere, we'll take Pink Floyd instead. Why not? And so nobody really knows anything about Brian Eno's composing.

Which is a pitiful thing. You may laugh at me, but I actually consider Eno to be one of the most important composers of the XXth century - yes, ranking right there along with all the other artists that I rated four stars on this site. And note that I rated him as such even before I had a chance to hear two of his most acclaimed 'straightforward rock' albums - Here Come The Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). (These are the records that most people usually associate with Eno, as they're more accessible than almost everything else in his catalog). Thing number one is: Brian Eno is much more than an 'ambient' composer. He started out as a flashy rocker, more in the 'art-glam' camp than anywhere else, then, in the mid-Seventies, began to experiment with sound atmospheres and synth possibilities, and finally switched to full-fledged 'muzak-making' by the late Seventies. But whatever his evolution, there's one thing you can't deny: Brian's absolute mastership of the pop formula. When he used to really write melodies, he did that with a flavour: be it fast, catchy, memorable, solid rock'n'roll ditties, or heartfelt, deeply engaging ballads, he was always on top. What's more, he always complemented that incredibly talented pop side of his with a tendency to make everything sound weird, otherworldly, and completely unlike whatever anybody else was doing at the time. Such a total devotion to his work and such a burning desire to put his foot somewhere no other foot had stood before highly distinguishes Eno and is absolutely unparalleled in our days: Brian was, indeed, one of the Giants of popular (and not-so-popular) music of his time.

But don't you go confusing Eno with, for instance, Bowie: yes, Eno always was primarily an experimentator, but he was a rare type of experimentator: the feeling, the devoted artist. Whatever bleeps and beeps and squeaks and moos and miauws come out of his trusty synthesizers, you know for sure they're heartfelt. Hundreds of 'noise-experimentators' and avantgarde artists have produced music that's close in style to Brian, but it always lacks true compassion and sincerity. The amazing thing, for Eno, is that I can always identify with his music, a process that's practically impossible for me to experience with the above-mentioned David Bowie. When Eno rocks, I rock with him, and do it gleefully and without reservations; when Eno rips out a ballad, I cry with him - songs like 'Golden Hours' or 'Spider And I' can tear the very soul out of you if you don't watch out. Such an amazing combination of 'successful experimentator', 'sincere artist' and 'talented composer' in one person is indeed rarely met; Bowie and Fripp are out of the question, and, while I do admit that both of the two first sides are present in a lot of Peter Gabriel's music, Peter is simply not that good in creating worthy melodies as Eno is.

As for Eno's 'ambient' side, well, 'ambient' is 'ambient'. Truth is, 'ambient' should be taken as it should: background music. Trying to 'understand' ambient music is similar to 'understanding' the ticking of a clock or the dripping of water from your faucet. I'm still in trouble as to what should be considered 'good' ambient music and 'bad' ambient music, as most of it makes me feel more or less the same feelings. In any case, I'll make an effort to collect as many of Eno's ambient albums as possible, just because it's hard to make a certain conclusion on a genre judging by just one or two albums. One thing is evident, though: you mustn't begin your acquaintance with Brian starting from Music For Airports or Thursday Afternoon; if you do, you'll simply get an incorrect picture of the man's essence - not necessarily an 'unpleasant' one, as some people dig ambient for all its worth, but an incomplete and distorted one.

The best place to start, as far as I'm aware, is Before And After Science - the record that perfectly unites both of Eno's sides, the playful rockin' one and the moody ambient one; it's also amazing in that you'll actually get to see that both are very closely connected to and related with each other. However, in general I suppose that almost any of his pre-Eighties albums will do; even Music For Films is significantly more 'entertaining' than some of the endless series of Newage albums he pumped out in the Eighties/Nineties. Here should be noted that Eno's catalog is a horrendous nightmare: he's recorded about fifty or sixty LPs, not counting millions of appearances on various soundtracks, and about the same number of collaborations. One can't really hope to assemble a complete discography of the man; my principle is to avoid innumerable collaborations and to concentrate on the Real Solo Eno stuff. Some of the collaborations are often quoted as essential, though; below I have reviewed the infamous Fripp collaboration No Pussyfooting, often quoted as the beginning of ambient (though it's not quite true), as well as Eno's important collaborations with Cluster and the essential David Byrne collaboration My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, too. And, of course, I have reviewed the so-called 'Berlin Trilogy' (Bowie+Eno) on the Bowie page.



(released by: FRIPP & ENO)

Year Of Release: 1973

These two dudes were born for each other, for sure; unfortunately, the world happens to be populated by other wasted human beings, as well.

Best song: both are terrific. Or both are crap. I still can't decide

Track listing: 1) The Heavenly Music Corporation; 2) Swastika Girls.

At about the same time that Eno started venturing out with his own solo career, posturing as a crazy glam-rock experimentalist (and actually earlier - this album was Brian's first release under his own name), he also started a collaboration with Robert Fripp, the soul and brains behind King Crimson - a collaboration that was probably as far out at the time as could only be possible. Now I'm not gonna make a fool of myself and pretend I enjoy this album. On the other hand, I certainly won't make an asshole of myself and pretend this album ain't at all interesting. To be quite honest, it's way beyond my limited comprehension to understand why anybody should ever enjoy No Pussyfooting; revolutionary and groundbreaking it might have been, but for the most part, it was just a tremendously important, but only a herald for better, real things to come.

For starters, I wasn't even sure where to put this album - on the Eno page or in the King Crimson appendices. Both gentlemen seem to have played a more or less equal part here: Eno contributes the synth gurgles and the, ahem, 'hardware' for Fripp, whereas the latter plunks his guitar to extract all these hellish sounds that constitute the main 'attraction' of the album. After long and rather stupid debates with myself (possibilities included setting up an entire page for the two dudes or just putting this on the Odds & Sods page so as not to hurt anybody's rights), I finally decided that this is more Eno than Fripp - after all, the album, while it is certainly not 'ambient', is all built on the 'ambient' ideology that would dominate Eno's later output. Also, Fripp may be playing his guitars, but he plays it through Eno's synthesizers. Finally, Fripp would later collaborate with Eno on many of Eno's own projects, as well as projects that were somebody else's but included Eno as well (David Bowie's Heroes, for instance), so Eno is probably the main hero on here. Correct me if I'm wrong.

The record here consists of just two lengthy compositions, each of which occupies an entire side; not that it took a lot of skill and inventiveness, because both compositions are fairly monotonous and repetitive. Essentially, each of them is just a looped synthesizer background against which Fripp plays a bunch of quasi-guitar solos - I mean, he doesn't really solo, he does the kind of atonal jamming that so frequently mars regular King Crimson releases. Here, though, it sounds different: all the guitars are cleverly encoded, and they frequently use A77 tape recorders to distort and twist the sound even further. I don't know how the hell they were doing that, but I'm not really interested in the recording process - in any case, the results are interesting enough.

'The Heavenly Music Corporation' is opened with about four or five minutes worth of nothing but humming synth background - reminds me of a lathe at work or something like that, heh heh. And then you prepare for the assault of Fripp's horrors: the guitars slowly build to a crescendo, a thunderstorm, an absolute chaos, whatever, fade away, come back, fade away and so on for twenty-one minutes. Does this make good background music? Not in a dentist's chair, it doesn't. Thinking back to the days of 1973, though, the public must have been horrified - not even Frank Zappa could expose it to such an atrocity.

Truthfully, though, I like 'Swastika Girls' (fun title) a whole lot better, because that swirling, cyclic synth pattern that keeps it going is at least listenable, just your normal sci-fi sounding machine, not a lathe imitation. The synthesizers in general are a bit more prominent here, as Eno keeps supplementing the sound with various little counter-rhythms and pools of his beloved bleeps and beeps inherited from 'Bogus Man'. Robert, however, doesn't vary the tone much, piling his usual approach on top of all the swirl, so it wears you down pretty quickly as well over the course of its eighteen minutes.

Well... that's about all that can be said about the album. Don't call it 'ambient' - please; it has nothing to do with ambient. Unless, of course, one prefers to dump under the name 'ambient' all kinds of static, unevolving music. 'Ambient' is supposed to be creating a mood - this stuff does not. It's just two guys with a penchant for fiddling around with tape recorders who got into a studio and tried out some cool experiments. That's all. This record hardly needs to be listened to more than once. On the other hand, it really needs to be listened to at least once, if only for the public to know the source of ambient, electronica, and all the technophilian stuff that has become so common in music since the Eighties. In this respect, No Pussyfooting is a priceless historical document, and much more so than, say, George Harrison's Electronic Sound: whereas George was just fooling around with his brand new synthesizer for no obvious reason and with no obvious purpose, Fripp & Eno were definitely keen on making music. No Pussyfooting must not be regarded as a self-indulgent, 'pretentious' release, but rather like the 'working process' - an intermediate step on the way to major successes.

Therefore, I do not condemn the record - but I don't rate it as well, and of course I won't put it on my CD player too often. Goes without saying.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Eno's experimental glam paradise.

Best song: BABY'S ON FIRE

Track listing: 1) Needle In The Camel's Eye; 2) The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch; 3) Baby's On Fire; 4) Cindy Tells Me; 5) Driving Me Backwards; 6) On Some Faraway Beach; 7) Blank Frank; 8) Dead Finks Don't Talk; 9) Some Of Them Are Old; 10) Here Come The Warm Jets.

The first true solo release from Eno is - as controversial as it might sound - one of the least typical albums for Brian, but also one of his best. If you happen to be only familiar with Eno as the "whacked-out ambient dude", Here Come The Warm Jets will be a shock: it's loud, sharp and rip-roaring, the kind of record that requires your volume levels to be turned up high not because you couldn't hear anything otherwise, but rather in order to receive the maximum level of tension and excitement possible. Although, of course, if you have the correct historical perspective on Eno, there's nothing surprising about that: after all, the guy was just fresh from a two-year stint with Roxy Music, and loud, spooky, abrasive futuristic thematics were the cornerstone of his existence in that band.

For that matter, all the Roxy Music members - with the obvious exception of Bryan Ferry - are present on the album in some form; Phil Manzanera adds impressive rhythm and lead work on some tracks, Andy Mackay plays keyboards on others, and Paul Thompson drums on some of the songs as well. Throw in the obligatory Fripp solo now and then (the most impressive is, of course, on 'Baby's On Fire'), and you got yourself quite an impressive batch.

And the songs themselves definitely rule in all the way possible, milking Eno's incredible pop instincts, on one hand, efficient use of modern technologies, on the other hand, and weird, almost perverse and at the same time humorous avantgardism, on the third hand (or make it the first foot if you wish). Not all of the melodies are as universally catchy and grabbing as on Before And After Science, but that's mostly because Eno hasn't yet started the wonderful 'deconstruction' that would lay these things bare and open in the future. In other words, two or three tracks will take some time to grow on you, if you give them a chance, that is.

One thing I didn't ever understand is why this album was sometimes called 'one of the best glam records of the epoch'. Sure, it's loud, flashy and doesn't take itself all that seriously, but does that really equal 'glam'? This is "pop futurism" at best, sometimes avantgardistic, sometimes retroish, but never really 'posturing' - not only do the songs lack any kind of sexism or "idolatry", but they're not even 'grand' in the Ziggy Stardust vein. Just a guy and a backing band having fun in the studio and mocking traditional musical values just as much as actually respecting them.

The first five tracks on the album are all fabulous. 'Needles In The Camel's Eye' presents us with a great pop-rocking start, as Eno screams out a catchy vocal melody underpinned by barrages of Manzanera riffage; I would personally prefer the vocals a bit higher in the mix, but if that was an intentional idea, I don't really mind either. Some have stated the presence of certain VU influences here, apparently due to the chaotic proto-punkish guitar passages, but frankly speaking, the mood of the song and the actual vocal melody is more Beatlesque than truly VU-ish. It's a cheerful, optimistic song, dammit! It ain't no 'White Light/White Heat' for sure. 'The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch', apart from having a really cool vocal part (Eno ridiculizing the old competitor Bryan Ferry's vocal style?), is easy evidence for Eno's perfect mastery of synthesizers: the synth solo in the middle, with all the innumerable bleeps and beeps that sound like lots of people talking gibberish to each other, or like birds chirping, or whatever, is fabulous. The greatest triumph, though, comes on with 'Baby's On Fire', another pop rocker, this time way more gloomy and menacing than before, but with a hint of irony and mockery as Eno sings the unforgettable vocal melody in a hyper-exaggerated voice and Fripp gives out one of the best solos in his entire career. It's a perfect triumph of nonsense - the song doesn't mean ANYTHING, and yet it works mightily. Feel free to insert any kind of meaning here, the one that you like the most.

'Cindy Tells Me' is one of the gentlest songs on the album, one of these pretty and authentic-sounding ballads that make Eno so particularly treasurable for me; the shrill, ear-blasting guitar solo from Manzanera never spoils the feeling one bit. And it works even better in contrast with the spookiest composition - 'Driving Me Backwards', based on a two-note piano melody (yes! yes!) and all kinds of shiver-sending noises that lovers of early Roxy Music will easily recognize and acknowledge. So, should we applaud Brian Eno for appropriating the atmospherics of Krautrock bands and putting it to better use by setting it to a simplistic and easily accessible melody? Basically, he does with these two chords the exact same things that a band like Amon Düül II would be doing with twenty. 'Yes', I say, 'talented minimalism must be given a helping hand! Bring on the Grammies!' Better still, just go and buy the record. Heck, it's revolutionary as hell. Where the Beatles and the Beach Boys once showed that art-rock can be complex and witty so as to earn the respect of all kinds of intelligent public, Eno now goes to demonstrate that art-rock can be simplistic and ingenuous - and still earn the respect of all kinds of intelligent public. In fact, the only reason Brian can't seriously be quoted as a huge influence on the punk movement (along with the Stooges and Captain Beefheart, ya understand) is that this is still 'Art Rock' with a huge capitalized A. Maybe even 'ART ROCK' with all capitalized letters.

But I got off the topic - I was going to tell you about the second side of this groundbreaking, highly imaginative and atmospheric album, wasn't I? Well, it's a bit weaker, but still deserving all kinds of praise. The two instrumentals are mostly fabulous - and, again, both are louder and more energetic than any of the further instrumental compositions he'd pen in the future. 'On Some Faraway Beach' incorporates Brian Wilson influences, and the title track sounds to me like a light hearted deconstruction of 'Amazing Grace'. Don't you hear the similarities? They're both majestic, though, and highly thought-provoking. In the meantime, 'Blank Frank' is intentionally ugly and 'filthy', quite a good hooter, eh? Check out Robert Fripp going totally mad on that one. 'Dead Finks Don't Talk' has a pretty little McCartneyesque piano melody, but don't be fooled: it also has a stern goth Lou Reed-like verse structure and goofy little 'oh no oh no oh no oh no' screams in the background. And 'Some Of Them Are Old' is simply undescribable. How can I describe that song? Soft like the Beach Boys? Playful like the Beatles? Jazzy? Catchy? Instrumentally diverse? All of them and more.

Aw what the heck. If you didn't understand a thing out of my vain attempts to describe the record, just go out and buy it. It's such a strong nine that it would have easily been a ten if only Eno hadn't topped the darn record with BAAS a mere four years later. If you ask me, the 'great musical revolution' of the late Seventies could have actually started with this album; the only reasons why Warm Jets were somewhat ahead of their time is that a) 'progressive rock' as represented by such worthy bands as Yes or Genesis was still alive and kicking and b) Eno didn't have a particularly great reputation with the critics or the general public at the time. Heck, how could he have a particularly great reputation if he was naming his debut album after, ahem, "golden showers" and displaying porn cards on the album cover? It would take years for people to stop treating the man as just a ridiculous weirdo, and by that time it would be too late already.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

There's some filler-looking material on here, and the concept doesn't really work; still, as close to a masterpiece as it gets.

Best song: THIRD UNCLE

Track listing: 1) Burning Airlines Give You So Much More; 2) Back In Judy's Jungle; 3) The Fat Lady Of Limbourg; 4) Mother Whale Eyeless; 5) The Great Pretender; 6) Third Uncle; 7) Put A Straw Under Baby; 8) The True Wheel; 9) China My China; 10) Taking Tiger Mountain.

Eno's second solo album is ever so slightly weaker than Here Come The Warm Jets, but don't let it worry you - and, after all, quite a lot of people consider it to be his masterpiece, so who am I to argue? There is just one little problem, though. Taking Tiger Mountain was an absolutely revolutionary record for Eno, maybe even more so than all of his later ventures into sheer atmospherics and ambience (and, by the way, nearly every record that the man released in between 1973-78 was revolutionary in its own way). Here, Brian completely abandons any glam-rock ambitions and completely breaks away from his 'decadent' Roxy Music past. The music is mostly slow and dreary; it is still deeply rooted in the pop formula that he had mastered so well, but this time the melodies tend to drift towards lethargic and repetitive - for the first time, the famous statics of Eno's music is on display over the duration of an entire record.

So what was I talking about? Oh yeah, that little problem. That little problem results from the fact that Brian was just starting to find his style - you can almost feel him desperately poking around corners, looking and looking for new kinds of sound to be developed and new musical ideas to be seminated. And I do mean new: not 'new' in today's sense, when finding a previously unused chord sequence is already a big merit in itself, but 'new' in the sense of creating a new genre of music and even more: a new musical stylistics that would lead to a new perception of music as a type of art. Well, anyway, I may be muddled up, but that's Brian Eno for you, and you couldn't get away from it. Tiger Mountain propels Eno's music into a previously unexplored stratosphere - unfortunately, a few more efforts had to be taken for this kind of music to be fully put under control on such masterpieces as Another Green World and Before And After Science.

In other words, this is a transitional record, and this is not good. It means that, on one hand, Eno doesn't rock out on it as well as he did on the previous record (because he tends to get more 'metaphysical'), and on the other hand, the atmospherics and sonic textures are a bit too rough and 'experimental' (in the poor sense of the word) as compared to what would follow soon thereafter. I can only count one major Eno classic on the record, even if none of the other songs qualify below 'very good': the rip-roaring 'Third Uncle', which doesn't really sound all that compatible with the rest of the album. It's fast, frenzied, abrasive, loud and apocalyptic, a desperate rocker with Phil Manzanera (who's playing guitar on most of the tracks) throwing in a unique 'trilling'-style and complementing Eno's nonsensic, but strangely catchy rap murmur with 'psychedelic' solos. Needless to say that the song predicts the whole New Wave movement three or four years before its arrival on the scene - it's definitely to tunes like these that Mr David Byrne looked for inspiration.

The record itself is loosely structured as a concept album - the title was 'borrowed' by Eno from a Maoist Beijing opera, and three of the ten numbers have something to do with China: on the lead-in number, 'Burning Airlines Give You So Much More', Eno tells us about a girl going off to the Middle Kingdom (yeah, that's China for you); 'China My China' speaks for itself, with lots of pseudo-Chinese lyrical imagery; and the title track that closes the album depicts the army's movement in the mountains while musically predicting Eno's future majestic ambient landscapes. But that's about it - none of the other songs ever mention China, and none of them really fit the concept. Which is not at all surprising - how could you expect such a weirdass freak as Eno to stick to one concept per album? That's what's called 'artistic limitation'.

Like I said, all the songs are slow, dreary, hypnotic and extremely atmospheric. Well, with the sole exclusion of 'Put A Straw Under Baby', which is a particular favourite of mine because it shows how well Mr Pornography Lover can handle nursery rhyme structures, and lyrical lines like 'There's a brain in the table/There's a heart in the chair/And they all live in Jesus/It's a family affair' are sheer genius. Much of the rest will scare you, spook you, make you hide under the bed or hire a bodyguard if you're not prepared beforehand: especially stuff like 'The Great Pretender' with its horror flick dark keyboard patterns and Eno's deep, bombastic vocals, or 'Mother Whale Eyeless' with that shiver-sending bassline. Meanwhile, 'The Fat Lady Of Limbourg', even if it is not supposed to, reminds me of a funeral procession during a plague epidemy: it's so slow, creepy, and ominous that I can't help imagining endless rows of coffins each time I put it on. Yeah, I realize that most of the lyrics speak against this kind of imagery, but as a double-tracked Eno chants out 'that's what we're paid for here' near the end of the song, it further confirms my suspicions that he's impersonating Master Gravedigger. God help me, I'm going crazy.

If you follow suite, please proceed directly to something more cheerful like 'Put A Straw Under Baby' or the great synth anthem 'The True Wheel', the second best track on the album - yeah, it's the one where the backing vocals sing 'we are the 801' and whence Eno got the idea of naming their temporary band with Manzanera. It's uplifting, rhythmic and very singalong-style - and, of course, as weird as usual, with totally incomprehensible lyrics and naggin' (but not boring) robotic synth blasts coming out of every corner. Or dig the famous typewriter solo (!!) of poor Chinese typists in 'China My China'. Or just revel in the gentle, folk-bluesy splendour of the title track. In other words, everything on here is formulaic, but the formula is diverse enough to let you get the maximum enjoyment out of every song. And Eno's pop sensibility is still running strong: despite a strange, newly acquired passion for three-four waltz structures (the war march 'Back In Judy's Jungle' and 'Put A Straw Under Baby' all follow that pattern), the vocal melodies of 'Third Uncle', 'Burning Airlines', 'Fat Lady' and a couple other tunes are as immaculate as usual.

So what do I complain about? The roughness. The sound's just not too deeply structured and not too deeply inspired for me. The title track is very pretty, but lacks the breathtaking, stately majesty of, say, 'Spider And I', if only because it's based on a simplistic guitar melody and not on Eno's own synthesizer patterns which he would sharpen to perfection later on. 'China My China' lacks a cohesive melody and is very rambling (the typewriter solo is by far the best thing about it). And too many of the tunes are mid-tempo which, believe it or not, is a down factor. I love Eno when he's fast - his rocking instincts can't be beat - and, of course, I love Eno when he's damn slow, as he's the only person in the world who can turn the very factor of slowness into an advantage almost by itself. But when he's mid-tempo, it's like the middle of the road - dammit, man, you just have to go somewhere. As it turned out, Tiger Mountain was the middle of the road indeed: quite soon, Eno would completely abandon 'fast' and limit himself to 'slow'. Which, of course, makes this particular record just a wee wee bit dated - a wee wee bit. It's still great, what's that I'm saying. Buy it today. But be sure to buy Before And After Science first.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Sonic landscapes of incredible richness, and hey! Ambient music that's not boring? Now you're speaking my language!

Best song: IN DARK TREES... maybe...

Track listing: 1) Sky Saw; 2) Over Fire Island; 3) St Elmo's Fire; 4) In Dark Trees; 5) The Big Ship; 6) I'll Come Running; 7) Another Green World; 8) Sombre Reptiles; 9) Little Fishes; 10) Golden Hours; 11) Becalmed; 12) Zawinul/Lava; 13) Everything Merges With The Night; 14) Spirits Drifting.

Brian Eno had always had a hidden (and occasionally unveiled) taste for avantgarde and bizarre sound explorations, but it wasn't until 1975 that he actually came around to creating 'ambient' and putting himself behind a wall of lullabyish noodling synths. Normally, Discreet Music is acclaimed as his first real achievement in the genre, but Another Green World is definitely the more well-known one and often hailed as Eno's masterpiece. Now I wouldn't really say that, as I'm by now fully convinced that Eno's masterpiece is Before And After Science, but I have to admit one thing: this album is very easily acceptable and adaptable. In fact, once I set my expectations to a suitable level, I found that I liked it on the very first listen, and not only liked it, but felt particularly intrigued about it.

Actually, just to make you feel the real depth of my feelings I'll disclose this little secret: this is perhaps the only case in my entire life when I didn't particularly care about the 'pop' aspects of the record, yearning for something more 'weird'. The problem is, amidst the endless series of 'miniature sound paintings', all of them instrumental, Eno had installed a bunch of catchy, rather straightforward pop songs - and they don't feel terribly at ease with the rest of the material. Now it's not that they are bad or anything. Nope. The repetitiveness of 'I'll Come Running' did get on my nerves the first few times I heard it, but eventually the harmonies in the chorus (the endlessly repeated line 'I'll come running to tie your shoe') grew on me, and right now I like to relax to the sound of it - works better than a tranquilizer, anyway. And as for 'Golden Hours' and 'Everything Merges With The Night', these two are very pretty, melancholic ballads with vocal melodies strangely reminiscent of the Beach Boys (especially 'Golden Hours' - doesn't it remind you of 'Sloop John B'?) and moody, intoxicating guitar solos, again, especially on 'Golden Hours', where Robert Fripp plays some mighty fine 'Wimborne Guitar'. And on 'Everything Merges' Eno runs his guitar through a synth and achieves an incredibly warped, twisted tone which sounds terrific when paired with a simple balladeering piano and a couple of shuffling acoustic guitars.

But, warped or not warped, these pop ditties still sound pale and generic when compared with the real meat of this album, the majestic, beautiful, spooky and awesome instrumental passages. Usually, 'ambient' music is not supposed to be listened to, it just makes a good background for you to work to (or play, or make love, or whatever you plan to do); in this case, however, it's great fun just to 'watch' the music - and I did say 'watch', not 'hear', as Eno's ambient textures are indeed sound 'paintings'. There's little to base your feelings of the songs upon other than the song titles, but these give you a great hook. The very title of the album suggests the presence of a new 'universe' that Eno is trying to unveil through his instrumental work, and it all resembles a strange musical journey through this unknown universe - a journey full of surprises indeed.

It all begins with 'Sky Saw' - a magnificent title, as the main synth-guitar 'riff' that carries the song forward, indeed, resembles a monotonously swinging see-saw and the buzzing of an electric chainsaw at the same time. And then there are these Rhodes pianos swirling from one headphone to another, and John Cale adds a crazy viola section, while Phil Collins (yup, you guessed that the album is chock-full of notorious guest stars) gives the drums a mighty pounding and holds everything together. Then off we go flying 'Over Fire Island' - a quiet flight, dominated by some fluid bass lines and some totally controlled, playful 'synth-fooling'. Might make a great soundtrack to some flight simulator if you're in a relaxed mood of flight simulating. 'St Elmo's Fire' is another 'poppy' interruption, actually, the first on here, after which comes my current favourite: the scary 'In Dark Trees' which gives you exactly that impression. You're in dark trees, understand? Lost in the mist in a dark forest, blindly running from one tree to another, and you're not even sure if you're in a dream or not. But once you finally get out, you get on 'The Big Ship', which doesn't seem to be in a great hurry. Actually, it crawls on the sea at a snail pace, but with such impressive synthesized majesty that you don't particularly get the urge to press it on and finally reach the point of your destination: 'Another Green World', which welcomes you with a strange, curious sound of 'desert guitars' so that you don't really know what to expect.

Truly - what should you expect of a world that's populated with 'Sombre Reptiles'? They're creepy! They're impersonated by Eno himself, who is responsible for 'unnatural sounds' on this track. But never mind, after a while the reptiles get away, probably being totally satiated by 'Little Fishes', impersonated by Brian on 'prepared pianos'. ('Little Fishes' is currently my bet for second best track on the album - dang, they DO sound like cute little fishes!) 'Becalmed' makes you relax - after all, enough journeying for one trip, just enjoy these organ-imitating synths and pray to whatever spirit you believe in ('Zawinul/Lava'). And the journey finally fizzles out with the mystical 'Spirits Drifting' - I can almost picture the very spirits that, well, drift (hell, what else should spirits do?)

Yeah, I was actually thinking about giving the album a thirteen, when I suddenly caught myself on the thought that I'll hardly listen to it again... not in the next couple of months, at least. See, this is music for the old, not the young: you need to be in a highly relaxed, thoughtful, meditative state of mind, and that's hardly what your humble servant can boast. And if that's no argument, I'll just say that there's hardly any real emotional resonance here: just curiosity and awe at the man's possibilities. I doubt I'll ever award anything more than a twelve to an 'ambient' album, but a twelve for an 'ambient' album is a great achievement as well. Heck, it's probably the only ambient album in the world that an average listener will be able to stomach without falling asleep in the middle (not that ambient records aren't really designed to make you fall asleep). And did I mention as of yet that most of these pieces are reasonably short and compact, and substantially divergent from each other in instrumentation, tonality and mood? Whatever. Just buy it and see for yourself.

P.S. I finally did give the album a thirteen. What was I saying? There is a lot of emotional resonance here, especially in the vocal tracks. And it's not entirely an ambient album - it's a proto-ambient album. You can screw that last paragraph all to hell.

In 1976 Eno teamed up with his ex-colleague Phil Manzanera to form the group 801 for the live album 801 Live; review featured in the Appendix for the Roxy Music page.



(released by: FRIPP & ENO)

Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Still half-pussyfooting, but some of this is way more atmospheric and beautiful than before.

Best song: WIND ON WATER

Track listing: 1) Wind On Water; 2) Evening Star; 3) Evensong; 4) Wind On Wind; 5) An Index Of Metals.

Oof, at least with this album nobody is going to accuse these two guys of being conservative. Hmm. Let me see, the first side on here can even be considered music - and this, in turn, allows me to actually rate this record. No Pussyfooting might have been more Fripp than Eno, at least, on the surface: the first side of Evening Star is definitely Eno. Again, though, it's not ambient: all of these four tracks take the time to build up and develop, whereas it is the main principle of ambient that there is no development over the course of the composition. Yup, I understand that most of the time this 'development' is limited to a gradual increase of volume and additional overdubs, but that doesn't matter: I'm intrigued, and that's that. Could you get intrigued by continuous listening to, say, any selected part off of Music For Airports? No way: if you've heard one minute of any selected track on there, you've heard it all.

Anyway, what I meant to say is that these four tracks are much more synth- than guitar-based, which really puts them apart from the Reverend Duet's work on No Pussyfooting: Fripp only adds his trademark pedals on the title track and mostly lays off the three others, and Eno is left free to revel in these countless layers of sounds - boring for some, wonderful for others. Bah. What people often miss is that this first side has a concept - where the first album was just the result of a daring, yet somewhat mindless experiment, 'Wind On Water', 'Evening Star', 'Evensong', and 'Wind On Wind' (note the titles) can actually trigger your imagination. Just look at the solemn album cover and give in to the magic of these guys, and you'll get it.

'Wind On Water' starts the record on a beautiful note: the swirls and reverberations of Eno's synths, gently rocking back and forth and slowly overwhelming the listener - like waves gradually filling up all the space all around you, create a majestic, orderly, peaceful atmosphere. The track should definitely be listened to in headphones, though, as the lengthy 'build-up' process requires your utmost concentration and care. Then the ruffle of the 'wind of water' fades out, giving way to the title track - the 'evening star' is being lit, and we are left to contemplate the gentle acoustic picking and sparse electric piano tinkles, while Fripp adds several enthralling solos that do sound Crimsonian, but are actually quite unlike anything he ever contributed to King Crimson. At first I was somewhat disturbed by these low, dissonant notes he keeps hitting all the time - the ones that sound like old bikes roaring along the highway, but once you get used to it, you'll probably come to think of them as nasty rainclouds obscuring the 'beauty' of the actual star. And then, of course, nothing is left but enjoy the supposed gorgeousness of the track for all of its eight minutes.

And then - surprise, surprise - two extremely short tracks, just three minutes long each. 'Evensong', to me, sounds more like a less bombastic reprise of 'Wind On Water', with the same synth/guitar reverberations and twists and a similar, but less long and less noticeable, build-up in volume. Nice, though, and the actual musical theme, if there ever was one, is far more distinguishable. And, finally, we fizzle out with 'Wind On Wind', probably the less 'melodic' piece of all the four, as all of its instrumentation just kinda falls together in one big Hum-a-dron that comes off as a refreshingly charming lullaby after all the previous, ahem, 'turbulations'. Don't laugh; compared to much of Eno's later work, these tracks are very, very turbulent. Not exactly Metallica, of course, but somewhere up there.

And so ends our pretty little twenty-minute suite. To fully appreciate it, I advise you take a vacation somewhere high up in the mountains with a view of the sea (yeah, Scotland or some parts of South Crimea will do nicely), bring along your tape recorder and blast this show-stopper at full volume. And who knows, maybe God himself will descend to you from the sky and provide you with a revelation that not even St John has heard of... Oh well, if not the Lord, then at least a genie's apparition is guaranteed. I give this pretty little suite a full-blown nine in such a context; considering, though, that I'm not in the mountains right now and neither, I'd warrant, are you, an eight will do.

But no, wait. There's that little problem of the second side on here. Darn it, why did these guys want to piss us off so much? Such a heavenly start and such a low finish. The second side features only one track, it's called 'An Index Of Metals', it goes on for twenty eight minutes plus (the longest of their compositions and one of the lengthiest tracks in the entire Eno repertoire... 'Thursday Afternoon' excluded, of course), and it mostly falls back on their resume - more experimental mood building in the No Pussyfooting vein. Only this time, it's longer, and it's no longer groundbreaking; if you hated 'The Heavenly Music Corporation', you'll certainly hate this one as well. I was only able to sit through the entire thing once, out of curiosity - suffice it to say that some stretches of this track just consist of one note prolongated for what seems like ages. Even Fripp seems to be hallucinating rather than adding conscient guitar lines. Blah.

So, all the fuck ups considered, I still give the record a six - the little evening suite can't be beat - but utterly condemn experimentation. Dang it, how much crap do we have to go through before we arrive at the masterpieces? Okay, so experimentation is necessary, but this particular bit should have been better left unreleased. Fancy that, now that I thought about it, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music also came out the same year. Yup, by the end of 1975 popular music definitely was in a state of crisis.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

Too much German influence on here, too few Eno, so it feels to me. I should probably love this - instead, I find it lifeless and boring.

Best song: FÜR LUISE

Track listing: 1) Ho Renomo; 2) Schöne Hände; 3) Steinsame; 4) Für Luise; 5) Mit Simaen; 6) Selange; 7) Die Bunge; 8) One; 9) Wermut.

Let me tell you this - I don't know a great deal about the pioneers of German Electronica. I never was a fan of the movement and, while I can't deny its obvious groundbreaking and pioneering aspect (apparently, Eno himself was hugely influenced by the 'masters of cold robotic sounds'), it also leaves a lot to be desired in the aspect of listenability. I want music that I listen to to give me pleasure, not cause me pain in the butt, and that's more or less the standard reaction I get while dealing with assorted Kraftwerk material (to a lesser extent with Can material, but Can turns out to be a different story altogether). Where Eno was truly able to prove that electronic sounds are compatible with a normal humanistic approach to music, these German dudes tried to prove the opposite, and that constantly bugs me. Music might be ugly, but music must be music, not just cold robotic stuff.

The somewhat less known, but definitely not the less musically gifted German 'duet' (at times a trio) Cluster were different, however - at least, unlike Kraftwerk, they collaborated with Eno (good lads). The actual 'cluster' was represented by Dieter Moebius and Hans Joachim Roedelius, two pretty nice guys, as they seem to be represented on the back cover of After The Heat: meek, friendly and pleasant to the eye. Of course, deep inside them is still present the cold German soul, heh heh. But German or not, they did get interested in Eno and Eno got interested in them, and it was a good thing, too: while the German electronic movement had quite a few tricks to teach Brian and broaden his musical horizons, Brian, in return, was able to breathe life and hope into the cold coffins of these robotic electronic sounds. Unfortunately, the process of reciprocal benefit took some time: Cluster & Eno is a far more feeble record than its masterful follow-up, After The Heat, more a cautious treading of water than a serious, awe-inspiring piece of art.

The album cover is fabulous, of course - how could it not be? A beautiful morning landscape with a mike put in front of it - what a perfect allegory! Sounds of nature captured by the art of human technologies, isn't it? Or, at least, sounds of nature reproduced by means of human technologies. The perfect synthesis of all that's natural and all that's artificial. Unfortunately - no. The album's contents do not match its cover.

What I hear is a bunch of electronic instrumentals that, essentially, go nowhere. Now I understand that some people will probably jeer and sneer at me and say that the majority of Eno's non-vocal works goes nowhere. Don't do that! Yeah, they go nowhere because there's no development of the theme, they all stay in one place all the time, but they go somewhere in the sense that they trigger a certain reaction in your mind, when you listen close enough. Their beauty and quiet solemnity alone guarantees some kind of reward for the listener. But the tracks off Cluster & Eno are really, truly pointless in most respects. First of all, they're German. I know it. They're German, and there's no getting away from it. Hell, they all have German names! Okay, not all. I don't know what is 'Ho Renomo', and I suppose that 'One' is the english numeral and not a misspellt German 'ohne' ('without'; although it might as well have been, as the track is indeed 'without' any purpose). But 'Schöne Hände' ('Beautiful Hands')? 'Steinsame' ('Stone-like')? 'Für Luise' (understood)? 'Wermut'? And I don't even know what the hell are 'Die Bunge' and 'Selange' supposed to mean - my German dictionary isn't that expanded.

In any case, it's not that they suck or anything, but they're horribly bland. They're rhythmic and tight, and they make up for some good background music, but I just don't see any interesting musical ideas, and when I do see some ideas, they're mostly, well, doubtful. 'One', for instance, is a six minutes-long mess all built on some kind of sitar-imitating instrumentation, just a chaotic bunch of barely structured noises that tries to sound 'new age' but ends up sounding as dated psychedelia. Worse is the fact that 'robotism' is still at the centre of the album: 'Schöne Hände' sounds not unlike Floyd's 'Welcome To The Machine', only this time there's no escape through the lyrics, and the pleading intonations of 'Steinsame' have absolutely nothing human about them: the synths are badly 'distorted' and sport such poisonous tones that I simply can't understand how this can make even good background listening.

I wouldn't want to discuss every single track - it's hard to do so when the actual music isn't particularly inspiring or imaginative. In the long run, there's just about two or three tracks on here that I would consider real worthy, the best of these being the scary, yet strangely hypnotic 'Für Luise', maybe the strangest composition that's ever been dedicated to a person - even if the person is an imaginary one. Its main structure is very simple - just a regular sequence of alternating electronic 'power chords', but the best thing about the tune is how these chords are linked to each other with a nagging, bizarre synth sound that alternates between wolf and wind howling, and increases in a fascinating crescendo: first, it just says 'woo... woo...', and then the woo-woos get louder and longer and keep jumping in every direction so that you really get a bit fidgety. Don't play that one in the woods late at night, you'll attract wolves for sure.

Other acceptable material on here includes the more piano-based compositions, such as 'Ho Renomo' and 'Mit Simaen', and the grim, desperate 'Wermut' that closes the record (that one almost sounds like a demo version for a very powerful requiem). But it's no use trying to salvage the record by picking out the good stuff which is present, but is never overabundant. The overall impression is still grim, grey and greasy; too much plastic, too few soul. And this time, one can't even blame it on the 'experimental' character of the record: it's not all that groundbreaking. Fortunately, by their next time around Eno finally got back to his senses and turned the tide so that the next collaboration would be more Eno than the Herren from Cluster; After The Heat sounds nothing like this one.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

Absolutely smashing - the most grandiose, effective and convincing mix of ambient and pop the world has ever seen.

Best song: JULIE WITH...

Track listing: 1) No One Receiving; 2) Backwater; 3) Kurt's Rejoinder; 4) Energy Fools The Magician; 5) King's Lead Hat; 6) Here He Comes; 7) Julie With...; 8) By This River; 9) Through Hollow Lands; 10) Spider And I.

Get out of your house, get in your car, and if you don't have the cash, sell your wristwatch on the way to the nearest CD store. Before And After Science - and I'm perfectly serious - is one of the most flabbergastingly, jitterbuggingly astounding records I've heard in quite a few time. I'll go as far as to state that this is the absolutely best record ever produced in this universe of ours since, well, since at least Quadrophenia, which makes it the past twenty-seven years.

If you still haven't heard this album (a travesty!), you may be a little bit familiar with its style judging by David Bowie's Low and Heroes; no surprise, as the album was recorded in 1978, a year after these two minor masterpieces. But Science fully convinces me of who was really the true mastermind behind Bowie's flamboyant stylistics; without Eno's participation, no way David could have developed that kind of intriguing sound. And in any case, Science simply takes both of these albums by the collar and kicks 'em out of the window; not only is the album at least twice as thrilling, it's also more diverse, more catchy, more emotionally resonant and more cleverly constructed. Fans of Heroes simply can't go wrong with this.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the album lies in its ambiguity. In fact, it's equally possible to regard it as both a little wonder of technology and 'modernistic muzak making' by emphasizing the odd beats, atmospheric sound textures and numerous electronic gadgets, and simply a very very strong pop album with tons of hooks and untrivial melodies, some of which are perfectly danceable and some of which can be treated as accessible ballads. Never before have I seen such a perfect balance between these two sides of the story, and I doubt I'll ever be able to see something like this in the future: this is usually deemed as the last 'song-oriented' album Brian Eno ever created. Another Green World might have been a trifle more atmospheric, and it's probably a better bet if you want to emphasize solely the 'ambient' side of Eno; however, if love for 'ambient' is not one of your inborn qualities, Science is as perfect and smooth an introduction to the genre as one might only hope about.

Curiously, I wasn't so wild about the album the first time I'd put it on; to tell you the truth - shame on me - I was even kinda bored. Silly pop ditties, I thought, interspersed with more so-so 'atmospheric' 'compositions'. It wasn't until the second listen that it struck me like a flood breaking through a dam. Yeah, many of the melodies here may be seen as trite, but the album should be regarded as a whole, not just a sum of its components. The way the melodies interact with the nonsensic lyrics, the technophilian arrangements, the masterful playing, and, of course, the atmospheres - the atmospheres are incredible, they just take some time to getting used to. But once you do get used to them, each and every one of the ten little tracks on here will shine on its own like a cute little brilliant.

On here, Eno follows the principle he'd employed on his previous albums with Bowie: namely, one side pop, the other side ambient. These distinctions, however, are not so clear in this case, as there are some ambient elements on the first side as well, and out of the ten tracks, only two or three are completely instrumental; elsewhere, the vocals play a significant part almost everywhere. The main principle that underlies the construction of the album is 'deconstruction': instead of the usual process used in recordings, when a song is recorded through adding different layers of sound by means of overdubs and multi-track recording, Eno chooses the opposite and 'subtracts' layers of sound from the original recording. The sound is thus becoming harsh and hard-hitting, rather than vague or distracting; but even so, the music never sounds robotic like in the hands of the German electronic masters, instead, it's quite lively and inviting. Add to this the blistering 'crew' - Robert Fripp, Phil Collins, Phil Manzanera, Moebius and Rodelius from Cluster, and what else is to be desired?

The album starts on a bouncy, but weird, note with 'No One Receiving', where Eno sings a brilliant vocal melody about 'metal ways' and 'metal days' and gets strong support from Collins' aggressive drum machines and Manzanera's fluent guitar lines; not the best song on the record, but a nearly-ideal introduction. 'Backwater', then, is one of the best songs on here; with its chugging piano rhythms and Brian's funny, almost childish delivery of the hilarious lyrics ('there was a senator from Ecuador/Who talked about a meteor/That crashed on a hill in the south of Peru'), it'll leave a deep, cutting hole in your soul. The melody is simply blistering, with the upbeat, friendly synths propelling everything to an adrenaline-raising groove; moody as hell, too.

However, the really weird stuff begins only with the third number, the crazy, psychotic 'Kurt's Rejoinder' (the song is dedicated to Kurt Schwitters, a German abstract sound poet who's apparently been a huge inspiration for Eno in his creation of the album). The song's jerky, pulsating rhythms, more insane lyrics ('Burger cruising just above the ground, ground, ground/Gunner puts a burnish on his steel'), the airplane-imitating synths, the funny little blabberings all over the place, and then there's the speed, the speed - it's so darn fast. Does it make sense? Probably not, but at least it's a thousand times more inspired ode to paranoia than, say, Pink Floyd's 'On The Run', and that's saying something.

A short ambient instrumental follows - the two-minute 'Energy Fools The Magician' which sounds exactly like the title supposes it should. Watch out for the twisted, distorted bass lines on that one, and their interaction with the majestic synths. It is, however, immediately followed by the album's most rocking piece, the blistering 'King's Lead Hat' - an ideal David Bowie song that David Bowie never wrote and actually couldn't hope to; it's better than any selected David Bowie song in the entire universe. Dang dang dang, I'm sitting in my headphones right now listening to it and I simply can't help it - the track gotta possess one of the craziest, most invigorating rhythms I ever heard. That drumming, Fripp's guitar, the dissonant piano... it's like a wild, frantic Jerry Lee Lewis boogie updated for the 'electronic world'. Some say that the song's lyrics refer to the Talking Heads (Eno had just begun his fruitful collaboration with the band), but I fail to grab the connection; however, the title of the track surely is connected - it's just an anagram of the band's name. Never mind, though, just enjoy the music. The album would easily get at least a 12 if it only contained 'King's Lead Hat' and everything else were crap.

Fortunately, everything else is equally prime stuff. The next five songs are all considerably softer, more relaxed and mellow, but none the less enjoyable. 'Here He Comes' is a gorgeous pop ballad with elements of folk and a wonderful combination of angelic vocal harmonies, crystal clear acoustic guitars and heavenly synths. And 'Julie With...', the lengthiest track on the album, is my personal favourite. It's a good thing it doesn't come immediately after 'King's Lead Hat', as the song requires absolute relaxation and willingness to give into its dreary, hypnotic atmosphere which couldn't be gained immediately after you've pumped your blood to the point of boiling. To put it short, it's simply one of the most mind-blowing, purely beautiful ballads ever put to tape - the lyrics are tasteful and pretty, the vocals are cozy and comfy, and that lonely 'twaaaaaaang' that's emitted by Manzanera's (or is it Fripp's?) guitar every now and then seems to pinch at the most important chord in your heart, whatever that chord is. Somebody hold me, I must be dreaming...

Two more soft, mellow compositions ensue - the piano-dominated 'By This River', with some of Eno's gentlest intonations on the album, and the completely instrumental 'Through Hollow Lands', a rather generic ambient instrumental that doesn't particularly stand out. But the spirits are again raised with the closing moment of majesty, the unforgettable 'Spider And I'. The synths are used sparingly on that one, with Eno patiently and solemnly pounding away on the trusty keyboards to achieve a majestic, church-organ type of sound as he chants the philosophical, melancholic, yet at the same time optimistic lyrics: 'Spider and I/Sit watching the sky/On our world without sound/We knit a web/To catch one tiny fly/For our world without sound'. This is, without a doubt, one of the most grandiose and moving finales to an accomplished musical piece.

I'm exhausted. I really don't have anything to say, and I don't know if I've managed to convince you that this record should be immediately taken off your 'What Money Should Be Saved On' list. But believe me at least when I say that this is one of the most important records of the late Seventies, and it's absolutely quintessential of Eno, combining everything - his pop instincts, his debauching glam tendencies, his ambient soul and his metaphysical ambitions. It's records like that that make me hope for the future of music: if something like this could have been made as 'late' as 1978, it means that not all is lost (or was lost at the time, at least). Actually, Before And After Science has serious 'New Wave potential' as well. What a pity nobody knows of its existence; it blows away everything from the New Wave I'm aware of, including the Police and the Talking Heads (two bands I'm quite fond of, by the way). It's a pity that Eno never really managed to top it, but, on the other hand, I'm glad he didn't even try; he could only have failed in such attempts.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

A hodge-podge collection of ambient snippets, which almost ruins it; fortunately, the snippets are good.

Best song: M386

Track listing: 1) Aragon; 2) From The Hame Hill; 3) Inland Sea; 4) Two Rapid Formations; 5) Slow Water; 6) Sparrowfall (1); 7) Sparrowfall (2); 8) Sparrowfall (3); 9) Alternative 3; 10) Quartz; 11) Events In Dense Fog; 12) There Is Nobody; 13) Patrolling Wire Borders; 14) A Measured Room; 15) Task Force; 16) M386; 17) Strange Light; 18) Final Sunset.

Like I said in the intro, it's hard for me to tell what truly distinguishes a 'good' ambient album from a 'bad' one; however, there is one thing about ambient music in general that makes it easier for me to appreciate than, say, experimental jazz. Ambient music is not based on technical efficiency and professionalism, and it cannot even hope to be 'self-indulgent' by its very definition. After all, it's no big deal to make an ambient track, right? You don't need to be a finger-flashing guitar or keyboards wiz; you may not even know how to read music; and you may do it by just sitting idly on the carpet and lazily tapping a synthesizer.

On the other hand, ambient music (or, at least, 'good' ambient music) reaches there where no super-professional jazz ever dares to go: to the very depths of your soul. That is, if you're able to get yourself in a relaxed, enervate position and truly sink in. And there's a whole wide circle of emotions and states of mind that certain bits of 'ambiency' can induce on you. It's not entirely true that 'ambient' music should never be listened to with concentration; it's simply something for the strong-minded person to do (don't worry, I'm not one o' these giants of the subconscious). It's like various Eastern schools of thought, you know. Yoga, for instance, can be an 'applied technology' to help you get by in your personal life without stresses and tension, or it might be an entire way of life according to which you structure and plan all your behaviour and all your personal ideology. Same goes for 'ambient': you may put it on while processing calculus equations to help you concentrate, or you may sink deep into it and shut off your conscience, letting your mind wander through the halls and passageways of sound.

Me, I'm certainly not an ambient fan of the second kind - but I do admit that it simply takes a lot of time, skill, and will to be transformed into such a person. On the other hand, I certainly find a lot of 'ambient' music worthy, simply because of atmospheres and various associations which it often causes to spring out of my mind. Unfortunately, Music For Films doesn't seem to perfectly gel with me. I guess it has something to do with the fact that this is not really an integral album. The eighteen short tracks which constitute it were recorded by Eno over an extended period of time, mostly in 1975-78, and were indeed used in various film soundtracks (not all of them, though). In this respect, there is no 'conceptual' unification of all the endless themes contained therein; the snippets just flash by without really constituting one 'whole' picture. Thus, even the tactics of Another Green World doesn't work here: try as I might, I simply cannot associate the passages with any 'otherworldly' vision or anything like that. I just have to sit and listen to each of them as it goes by, and appreciate each of them by its own values. And this is not a very interesting task, believe me.

Essentially, the album seems to be divided in two parts: the 'mellow' part and the 'disturbing' part. Taken as a whole, the 'disturbing' part interests me somewhat more than the former, as too much of the pieces sound exactly the same. The fact that the lengthiest of these hardly goes over three minutes, and the standard length is about one and a half minutes, doesn't really help: everything is so quiet that you don't even notice the pause between tracks. So it's mostly quiet synthesizer noodling, as you have guessed; however, even within this noodling there are some incredibly pretty things hidden below the surface. I particularly like 'From The Same Hill', as the majestic synthesizer background on there is perfectly complemented by isolated twing-twangs of classical acoustic guitar, and once you've made yourself believe that the track is Eastern-influenced (probably not, though), I like to picture some distant Chinese hill where I'm sitting and watching the clouds go by as something like this plays in my mind. Another highlight is the gorgeous 'Slow Water', where Eno plays a lovely piano melody against more synths and, you guessed, sounds of running water; and 'Alternative 3' is quite spooky, in the Heroes vein, though it's probably the only thing I could say about it. All the rest is simply undescribable, including the three-part 'epic' 'Sparrowfall'; not exactly 'boring', but not particularly inspiring either.

Things really start to pick up starting from track 12 - 'There Is Nobody', which introduces some new, 'harsher' sounds, in this case a strange synth pattern that resembles the cackling of hens. Still better is 'Patrolling Wire Borders', a robotic, aggressive instrumental that sounds like it, indeed - you can almost hear the wires twirling in the wind. Wailing sirens add to the sound on 'A Measured Room', and hellish drum machines complement it on 'Task Force'. But the definite highlight of the record, and possibly the only true ambient classic on the album, is 'M386', a track that should never be played to a small child in a dark room. Eno makes his synths howl, moan and groan as if it were indeed a 'bush of ghosts'. Boo! Then the album closes out with two more 'soft' compositions, but that's something I wouldn't want to concentrate your attention on.

All in all, the album strikes me as, well, not very necessary - at a point where Eno had already engrossed himself into creating huge conceptual canvases of sound, this rag-taggy collection just can't be regarded as consistent or essential. Picking out the little gems is all right, I guess, but ambient isn't really structured like that - you either embrace it as a whole or discard it as a whole. A good enough listen, I suppose, and recommendable if only for the ultimate shortness of the pieces (no sixty-minute tracks for you on here); but probably not the best place to start with Eno's sound texture techniques.




Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

Putting the 'rhythm' back into 'ambience'? Or crossing the British lunacy with German robocy?

Best song: THE BELLDOG

Track listing: 1) Foreign Affairs; 2) The Belldog; 3) Base & Apex; 4) Tzima N'arki; 5) Luftschloss; 6) Oil; 7) Broken Head; 8) Light Arms; 9) The Shade; 10) Old Land.

The second Cluster/Eno collaboration is definitely an improvement over the first - mainly because it seems most likely that Eno has finally taken the reins in his own synth-skilled hands, and this record is much more Eno than Cluster, which is a good thing. How do we know? Well, there are at least several major improvements, the main of these being (a) most of the titles are in English (good for language-deaf audiences), (b) Eno actually singing on some of the songs and, most important, (c) most of the compositions being far more efficient and emotionally resonant than last time around. Now, once again, I reiterate that I'm no great Cluster expert to be able to tell who exactly wrote what; it might well be, for instance, that I am mistaken and Eno only plays an auxiliary role on the record. Which I doubt: these tunes are so much more humane and touching than the ones on Cluster & Eno that I simply can't believe they came from the minds of the two stern German gentlemen (yeah, I understand that the Kraftwerk dudes were even more stern, but hell, Deutschland is Deutschland and will always be one).

But never you mind. Whoever wrote whatever, the record is quite fascinating. This is, once again, not exactly an 'ambient' album in the full sense of the word. Stylistically, it's much more close to Another Green World than to anything else in Eno's catalog: in fact, it could even be viewed as a slightly inferior sequel. Inferior, because the imagery is just not as strong: the arrangements are a bit more monotonous and repetitive, and there is hardly any 'concept' to be found anywhere. The track names mostly suck, too: 'Foreign Affairs', 'Oil', 'Light Arms' - all these names do not match the actual songs' atmospheres nohow, and even when the names do match the atmospheres, they are often encoded. How do you get to know, for instance, that 'Luftschloß' stands for 'air castle' in German if you've slept through it at school? Not to mention 'Tzima N'arki', which turns out to be an encoded reverse phonetical encription (!) for 'ECONOMIES' which, in its turn, is an anagram for 'ENO IS COME'. Hey, welcome home, Brian.

So there's just not as much perfect conceptual fluency or diverse atmospheric layers here as on Green World. Regardless, most of the tracks, especially the first half of the album, sounds great. The actual sound is, in fact, significantly richer on texture than on World: there are multiple, complex layers of synths on most of the numbers, except on those that are piano-dominated, where the sound seems almost deliberately stripped - to give you a breath of freshness. And this unbelievably imaginative production technique makes it easy to assimilate the tracks' cyclic, repetitive character. Most of them represent endless loops (or, rather, 'spirals', because if one listens closely, these loops are often recreated on different levels, with new added elements of sound) - but, after all, looping is Eno's usual technique, and these loops sound great. Majestic, intriguing, rousing or relaxing depending on the specific track, excellent as both background listening and music to contemplate to. The best thing about these loops, however, is that they are mainly based on a certain rhythm pattern - they don't drag or creep, they bounce and pulsate, so that it's often possible to tap your feet and bob your head (actually, after a while you can't help but do that - this music will put you into a magnetic trance. Or a coma, if you're allergic).

'Foreign Affairs' opens the album, and it's fully representative of its general flavour: it just keeps jumping and pouncing at you, not without a certain Far Eastern influence, too - such rhythms are often found in Chinese musical landscapes. It is followed by my favourite - 'The Belldog', a song that represents Brian (and company) at their very, very best and is a classic quite worthy of inclusion on Before And After Science. According to Eno, the 'belldog' is an expression he heard from a loony pianist playing dissonance in the Washington Square Park - he had no idea what it meant, but thought it was supposed to be some kind of herald of some kind of a secret mission. The song's built according to that principle: it definitely has a universalist, cosmic flavour to it, with overwhelming waves of heavenly synths crumpling one upon the other, and featuring Eno singing his obscure lyrics in a fascinating vocal melody. 'Belldog' is, without a doubt, one of the most complex pieces of music ever produced by Brian: he usually achieves his overwhelming cathartic effect by a much more scarce, spare production, but here no expense has been spared. It's well worth taking a peep.

I won't go into details over the other tracks, because, as I said, the underlying principle for most of them is the same. This doesn't mean it gets boring, though - 'Base & Apex' is technically structured just like 'Foreign Affairs', for instance, but produces quite a different mood, with a fascinating contrast between the majestic heavenly synths in the background (the 'apex'?) and the more grounded, distorted looped synth riff in the foreground (the 'base'?). 'Tzima N'arki'... wow... what can be really said about that one. Don't even start wondering over what kind of crazyass language Eno is singing in, because you'll never guess. Actually, he's singing the refrain from 'King's Lead Hat' in reverse speech - looping the lines backwards. And you get the impression as if he's busy shamanizing in Nganasan.

'Broken Head' is really depressing - hardly surprising for a song featuring lines like 'I was just a broken head/I stole the world that others punctured/Now I stumble through the garbage/Slide and tumble, slide and stumble'. Fortunately, there are enough lighter spots on the album, most notably the acoustic piano-dominated 'Luftschloß' and 'The Shade', to relieve the pressure; and the album fades out with the gorgeous, moody 'Old Land' - the most 'becalmed', tranquil, imperturbable composition on the album, similar in texture to 'Big Ship' but nowhere near as bombastic and far closer to real 'ambient' stuff.

Unfortunately, the album's rarely met in print these days - a real tragedy, as it is, in all honesty, not any less crucial for Brian than Green World. 'Belldog' ranks up there with anything he'd done before or after, and it's also notable for being the last Eno record in a long while where he's actually singing on some tracks - he wouldn't resume adding his vocals until the 1990 John Cale collaboration, Wrong Way Up. True, it does require a little more understanding and patience than Green World which just seems to jump out and grab you, and it's nowhere near as dynamic (if World was dynamic in the first place), but it has its own hidden charms that World lacked. Esoteric - yes, but even so, memorable and often fascinating. And the album cover is cool. If the track titles don't usually match their content, then the cover certainly does.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

Eno's first experiment at something Really Truly Ambient, it... err... kinda sucks, except for one track.

Best song: 1/1

Track listing: 1) 1/1; 2) 2/1; 3) 1/2; 4) 2/2.

I know, I know. It does smell of treachery - first praising the Father of Ambient and then condemning what many regard as the Ultimate ambient record of all time. But I'm not exactly condemning it: I just think that this album is a bit of a 'first rough step' for Eno.

Music For Airports is often named Eno's best album (no kidding, you the people who ignore Eno's output), but it's probably more correct to name it a 'historical landmark'. In a certain way, this is indeed the first pure, unadulterated 'ambient' record: unlike Music For Films, it consists of just a few lengthy pieces that together form a carefully structured ensemble, and none of these pieces can even pretend to have a 'melody' in the traditional sense. More important, Music For Airports is the first in Eno's series of 'picturesque' compositions - the compositions on here have to be treated as static images rather than dynamically evolving perspectives.

I do not know, however, why the record sports such a dubious title. Music For... is understandable: it reflects Ambient's main principle of being created with a special 'background' purpose for specific aims. But did Brian ever really try playing any of this stuff in an airport? An airport's a noisy place, and all of these tracks are so quiet they'd hardly be heard, unless they were aired at tremendous volume and scared off everybody in the place (well, I can only imagine '2/1' being played at high volume in an airport. Boo! Spooky!)

Anyway, there are just four tracks on the whole record, and they don't even have names - just '1/1', '2/1', '1/2' and '2/2'. Each of them is also accompanied by a strange picture of its own that look like a cross between a statistical diagram and a microchip scheme. Needless to say, they're quite long, and totally needless to say - they're quite repetitive; basically, if you've heard thirty seconds of any selected track on here, you've heard it all, unless you go analyzing the compositions with a spectrometer or phonographer and track down all the subtle differencies in pitch and tone.

But, of course, that's what makes ambient music ambient, isn't it? That's serious stuff. If you haven't got it yet, Eno helps you by adding about thirty seconds of silence after each track - you must be left alone with your impression for a while and get ready for the following one. Problem is, I really don't like much of this stuff, and my main idea is that Music For Airports is really just the rough beginnings: Eno would go on to create far more interesting and curious ambient landscapes in the future. My complaint, however, does not extend onto the very first track on here ('1/1') which is truly an ambient masterpiece. It also confirms my suspicion that Eno was always at his ambient best when collaborating with someone: here, he shares the co-authorship with Rhett Davies and Robert Wyatt (the latter of Soft Machine fame). The process is as follows: Robert plays a simple, but pleasant acoustic piano line, and Eno surrounds it with equally simple, but pleasant synth backgrounds. This goes on for sixteen minutes plus, but, on one hand, the resulting effect is so pleasant to the ear that it makes for wonderful background music; on the other hand, if one listens really close, one may finally notice that there are lots and lots of delicate crescendos and 'fade-outs' on the track that really add some dynamism to the procedure. The same trick would later on be used by Brian on the far more avantgarde but somewhat less entertaining Thursday Afternoon.

However, I tell you in all honesty that I could easily live without the ensuing three tracks. On '2/1', Eno takes some harmonies placed on tape by three female singers and proceeds to make a load of tape loops out of them. Result? Eight minutes of endless 'aaaaaahhh's, all of which are electronically encoded but human enough to be recognized. Persons with advanced musical insight will probably get a hoot out of killing their time trying to count how many different 'aaaaahhh's Eno had used in the process; I'm just not moved at all. I love good harmonies as much as anybody, but this is a stupid gimmick, and this actually prevents me from concentrating on anything or relaxing, while '1/1' helped me do otherwise.

Likewise, '1/2' is basically a 'superposition' of '1/1' and '2/1': the same chicks are singing more or less the same 'aaaahhh', but this time it is accompanied by some tinkling piano playing in the background. The piano here is less rhythmic and captivating as on '1/1', though, and the 'aaahhh' noises are just as nasty; add to this an eleven-minute running length and you'll see why I'm not going crazy over the record. Finally, '2/2' is just a bunch of juxtaposed synthesizer noises; the texture on here is far more pleasant to the ear than on the 'aaahhh' sections, but at ten minutes' length, it also goes for far too long, and I simply don't see any interesting ideas on this one. Passable, but useless.

In all, Music For Airports is really for the listener who 'feeds on ambient'. To me, it doesn't exactly fulfill the main purpose of 'ambient', though - to gratify your ear while you're doing something else. '1/1' is beautiful, to be sure, but the other tracks are just way too experiment-oriented and tentative to count as serious art works. It's true that at the time this was completely groundbreaking, got some rave reviews and is still treated by many (quite justly) as a great historical landmark. But that's one landmark that has badly dated.



(released by: HAROLD BUDD/BRIAN ENO)

Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

Some beautiful piano melodies on here - soothing and relaxing, and quite full of imagery.


Track listing: 1) First Light; 2) Steal Away; 3) The Plateaux Of Mirror; 4) Above Chiangmai; 5) An Arc Of Doves; 6) Not Yet Remembered; 7) The Chill Air; 8) Among Fields Of Crystal; 9) Wind In Lonely Fences; 10) Failing Light.

Now this one's very nice. And I mean it. Actually, it's not exactly an Eno record: it's usually billed as a 'Harold Budd' record, and Harold Budd is indeed somewhat more prominent on it than Eno. However, it is still called Ambient 2, and so, naturally, belongs in Eno's ambient series. In case you don't know it, Harold Budd, along with Brian, is considered to be one of ambient's most important composers. His style, though, is often billed also as 'neo-classical', and to tell you the truth, I'd also call this record more 'neo-classical' than 'ambient'. Most of the compositions here consist of Harold quietly playing piano over Eno's trademark synth landscapes, which should remind you of MFA's '1/1'. But it's not just one 'magic' piano phrase repeated over and over; the effect is usually more like the one you get from listening to a quiet, restricted sonata. And Harold's piano melodies, while maybe not genius, are extremely well constructed and quite often, emotionally resonant; more important, they are able to conjure up some imagery - a thing that was so painfully lacking in Airports.

Again, as in such Eno's works as Another Green World, it's highly recommended to orient yourself on track names and try to associate them with the music; in this case, the imagery that you might sometimes invoke in your mind can be spectacular. Plateaux Of Mirror signifies that you have to think of an illusionary 'paysage' somewhere high up in white, crystal clear mountains; and titles like 'Above Chiangmai' (apparently a Chinese geographic title, though I'm not sure what it really refers to), the title track itself, or 'The Chill Air' and 'Among Fields Of Crystal' certainly help support the image.

'First Light', then, introduces us to that magic mountain-ish world with a gentle piano melody, slightly reminiscent of some romantic Beethoven opera, and there's indeed something fresh and pure about the music that's supposed to elevate us high up to a mountain peak. 'Steal Away' is short and serves as a sort of coda to 'First Light'; but on 'The Plateaux Of Mirror', the tonality changes and the music becomes more dense, mystical and echoey, as if the weary journeyman has stepped into the World of Magic out of the Real World. 'Mirror' supposes the idea of reflection, and the music here is indeed 'reflected' - Eno's synths and Budd's pianos bounce off each other and make a beautiful resonance in your ears.

'Above Chiangmai', again, returns us into a more realistic world - the sound becomes crystal clear and sharp again. But hey, what's with these tiny little flute noises that keep flashing somewhere in the background from time to time? A magnificent setback, and, of course, the flutes are supposed to reflect the title's Chinese connotations. For some reason, this track's my personal favourite on here; I really dig these teeny-weeny flutes.

'An Arc Of Doves' is a bit more disturbing - Budd takes up a more aggressive style (of course, 'aggressive' is a purely relative term here - nothing on the album is played above a relaxed, slow-paced crawl); however, this one's not my favourite, as the sound is a little bit too generic. You might, however, easily imagine an arc of doves in the sky and identify them with this music; no pain in that. But there's nothing really shocking or innovative about it; likewise, I was initially not a big fan of 'Not Yet Remembered', a track which can hardly be called 'ambient' at all. The synths and creepy sound effects are barely used on that one, and the piano melody is too derivative of XIXth century composers; however, when the vocal harmonies (the only vocals on the album) suddenly come in, the track assumes a certain majesty and solemnity which is unparalleled on any of Eno's other work: this is twentieth-century technologies mixed in with a nineteenth-century way of feeling the music, and it sometimes manages to get me really moved.

Back to the mountains again - 'The Chill Air' is not as chill as you'd want it to be, but if you listen very, veyr carefully, you'll hear Eno's synths imitating something like a weak, but steady winter wind in the background. Very moody. 'Among Fields Of Crystal' is rather throwawayish, but 'Wind In Lonely Fences', with its howlings and scary xylophone imitations, is an ambient masterpiece (it's the only track on the album where Budd's pianos are not the main instrument, so I can call this track 'ambient' without any scruples). Finally, we descend from the mountains - and, just as 'First Light' heralded our arrival to the enchanted plateau, so 'Failing Light' announces our departure on a sad, but consolating note.

I have taken the time to repeat the process I used while describing Another Green World - going over each of the songs step by step, and I beg the readers' forgiveness if that was kinda boring, but I feel it's about the only possible way to describe ambient music. If you don't let your imagination run wild and free while listening to such things, you'll indeed suppose that 'ambient' as a genre is just a load of simplistic, yet pretentious crap; but if you admit that good ambient music can be used as a soundtrack to your imagination, you'll sooner or later come to understand all of this music's potential greatness. Please don't sneer - for my money, The Plateaux Of Mirror easily beats the shit out of, say, Tales From Topographic Oceans. Now that one was sure pretentious...



(released by: BRIAN ENO/DAVID BYRNE)

Year Of Release: 1981

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

The Album That Ripped Up The Eighties - but did it really need to?

Best song: aw shucks, you know as well as me that's impossible to determine. REGIMENT? AMERICA IS WAITING? Sheeez.

Track listing: 1) America Is Waiting; 2) Mea Culpa; 3) Regiment; 4) Help Me Somebody; 5) The Jezebel Spirit; 6) Very Very Hungry; 7) Moonlight In Glory; 8) The Carrier; 9) A Secret Life; 10) Come With Us; 11) Mountain Of Needles.

If anybody ever thought that Eno's main work was all done in the Seventies and since then all he did was living off past glories and expanding his ready formulas instead of coming up with new ones, this collaboration with David Byrne will certainly prove him wrong. One might argue, though, that this record isn't really Eno: it sounds so close in style to the Talking Heads' Remain In Light, released a year before, and so unlike Eno's contemporary ambient experimentation, that there's a big temptation to say this is all Mr Byrne and that's that. One should keep in mind, though, that Eno is a multi-facet performer; remember how at the same time he revelled in producing oddball glam-rock panoramas like Here Come The Warm Jets and dissonant feedback drones like No Pussyfooting? Not to mention that he was the mastermind behind the 1979-80 period of the Heads, as well. No, My Life is a full-blown collaboration, and I dare say that Eno plays as much a role as David on that one, maybe even more, considering that Byrne is not even singing on the album.

So what's it all about? Cool album title, cool album cover; and, as is the regular thing with Eno, both perfectly match the album contents. On a formal level, My Life is just a set of seemingly random sonic collages and samples, some of which might seem dated and rather clumsy as compared to the regular sampling technologies employed nowadays. Arguably, though, My Life was the first album ever (Lord knows I hate making statements like these - every time I do so somebody pops out and says it wasn't, that it was preceded by album so-and-so by band so-and-so which nobody knows about except for a couple diehard bearded followers), all right, I'll still go ahead and say it was the first album ever to employ the sampling techniques. Taking all kinds of World Beat snippets and ethnic chants, Eno and Byrne had transformed them into the skeleton for the ensuing work: tape looping, voice overdubs and all kinds of synth effects make ethnic music, electronica, and rock come together in a completely groundbreaking melting pot.

It's not a masterpiece, though. If you ask me, in performing this kind of 'music' Eno and Byrne are in the same relation to Peter Gabriel as, say, Can is to Eno's classic Seventies' works: groundbreaking and innovative, but nowhere near as emotionally pristine and perfect. In other words, after hearing My Life one might say: 'Cute and entertaining - initially. But what the hell is it for?', while after hearing Gabriel's Security one might exclaim, in a revelatory kind of voice: 'Oh, so that's what that stupid Bush Of Ghosts album was all about!' Bizarre and curious - yes; but it just doesn't possess the sinister, visionary atmosphere of either Eno's ambient albums or Byrne's Talking Heads albums of the same period.

Actually, that's not completely true - if one really wishes to find scariness, darkness and deep meaning in these sound landscapes, one might easily find it. But not me; I just can't get rid of the feeling that, like No Pussyfooting, this was just a treading of water with the only possible aim - to experiment and push the music forwards with eyes closed. In this way, we must really be grateful to the guys - without this album, there would be no Security or Passion - records where Peter Gabriel closely follows these ambitious dudes' patterns, but is able to incorporate the ethnic samplings into his work in such a clever and cunning way that not everybody is even able to guess what these records are built upon. Unfortunately, without this album there would be no Prodigy, either. I mean, come on: how many crappy techno bands have taken their cue out of this stuff and gone on to pollute the world with senseless, monotonous electronic samplings? Truly and verily, everyone takes only according to his or her capabilities: geniuses like Peter Gabriel take the essence, while dorks like [...insert the name of your worst-hated techno or rap combo in here...] take the fluff.

Okay, I'll just mention some of the songs briefly, because there's really little sense in doing that - too many of them sound alike and are based on the same principles. 'America Is Waiting' is really cool just because of all the innumerable noises that overfill it, and it manages to rock at that. 'Regiment' and 'The Carrier' are perhaps the moodiest pieces on here, because the transplantation of Muslim chants onto more or less 'conventional' discoish structures, as in the first case, or their crossing with African polyrhythms in the second case, works adorably; this is obviously where Gabriel got most of his Passion ideas from. 'The Jezebel Spirit' is just plain fun: the guys overdub an exorcist's speech over a bouncy dance structure, and the effect is hilarious. (By the way, many of the songs seem to deal with religious issues - I suppose the album must have earned the authors quite a few accusations of heresy and Satanism). And 'Very Very Hungry' is especially actual in today's CD epoch: where the intentional 'vocal tape jams' might have been just laughed at while listening to the album on vinyl, nowadays they make me shudder each time I put them on as I'm afraid my CD player has finally got all crammed up.

I wouldn't want to discuss the other tunes in detail; they're mostly worthy of being analysed, I guess, but I just don't feel like analysing sonic segments that had actually been created as a result of technological synthesis. Is there any real magic in this record? That depends on your taste. Not for me; I admire the effort and have absolutely nothing against the album, but allow me to treat it as a landmark rather than an immaculate work of art. Proof, again, that 'innovation' is only part of the story: you have to find somebody who would be innovative and emotionally resonant at the same time. In this particular case - Peter Gabriel.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

Ambient. Anything else to say? Oh, all right. Tolerable ambient. Okay. Genius!!!


Track listing: 1) Under Stars; 2) The Secret Place; 3) Matta; 4) Signals; 5) An Ending (Ascent); 6) Under Stars II; 7) Drift; 8) Silver Morning; 9) Deep Blue Day; 10) Weightless; 11) Always Returning; 12) Stars.

Great - this is probably the event Brian Eno had been waiting for all his life. The story goes like this: Al Reinert had to do a documentary based on the famous Apollo moon mission, and without further notice he simply addressed Eno and asked him to do the music for the film. Why not? After all, isn't 'ambient' the perfect style to fit a space travel? Furthermore, if you read Eno's personal liner notes in this record, you'll see that he was really glad to participate: the film would not share the defects of all previous space voyage films, which were (I quote) 'short shots, fast cuts and too many experts obscuring the grandeur and strangeness of the event with a patina of down-to-earth chatter'. In other words - the Moon, Apollo and Brian Eno, and no one to break their peaceful idyll. I suppose there's also God somewhere in between, but that detail is not so evident. Nothing else.

Result? As an ambient experience, this is pretty cool stuff. The album marks the beginning of Eno's collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois and his younger brother Roger (Eno's brother, that is, not Daniel Lanois'); the former is especially important in that he contributes some diversifying guitar bits in the second half of the album. The production here is indeed crystal clear, and ideally conveys the 'space atmosphere' - this is music that has to be listened to in headphones, eyes closed, absolute silence around; then try to imagine the Moon and the spaceship and hoopla, cat's in the well. By overdubbing powerful, fat, but not 'nagging' layers of bass, Eno makes the sound completely 'space-oriented', and from then on all he needs is the appliance of his standard techniques.

The first three or four tracks on the album are essentially one - I couldn't tell whether it's 'Under Stars' or 'Matta' playing for all I care. Although, wait, 'Matta' has a different kind of sound, with a lot of 'disturbing', creepy little bleeps. What's 'Matta', by the way? I'm an ignorant dunce. Not that they don't rule, of course - if you follow the procedure I have described above, the sensations are supreme. But if there is anything truly outstanding about this first half, it's the heavenly majesty of 'An Ending (Ascent)'. Eno pitches the synth to an extremely (but not overbearingly) high level, and creates a melody that's probably the ambient equivalent of Bach's 'Passions': I can easily imagine it played on a church organ. In fact, this is the first and the most obvious case on here when the music ceases to be just 'background', i.e., it doesn't just convey the feeling of space, it adds real emotions - hope, optimism, catharsys, whatever.

Starting from the eighth track, the music gets a little bit more dynamic, as Eno's synths are finally joined by Lanois' guitar. To my mind, Lanois playing guitar was not the best possible idea for the album: when these upbeat, almost country-western, chords echo through 'Silver Morning', the feeling of space is sorta, well, er, lost. Lost almost completely. Whoever would want to hear snippets of countryish guitar when he's cruising around the moon on a silver morning? Garth Brooks, anyone? Hah hah, just kidding. The instrumental is actually good, it just doesn't fit in - and, by the way, it's no small coincidence that it's the only track on the album credited entirely to Lanois (all the others are either Brian solo or Brian in collaboration with either Lanois or Roger).

Fortunately, 'Deep Blue Day' corrects the situation, as the guitar on it doesn't overshadow the atmospheric synths. It does sound countryish, too, and they even add some bass so that the composition gets a rhythm (a rhythm?), but at least it doesn't sound like your average Nashville star who'd wanted to upgrade his sound with a little bit of modernistic technologies. And on 'Weightless' and 'Always Returning' the guitar is shoved even further to the background, giving way to a light, caressing sound resembling a glockenspiel or just pure, clear pianos.

In all, I'd say that there is a distinct contrast between the two sides of the album. The first part of the 'journey' is dark, menacing and gloomy; the second part suddenly turns out bright, inviting and cozy, as if the soundtrack was destined not to follow the mission of Apollo, but described a lost soul's journey to paradise. And yes, Lanois' guitar spoils the fun sometimes, but then again, this contrast is probably necessary, as it really helps one to sit through the entire album and not drift off to sleep if only out of pure curiosity. Actually, I suspect most people will only begin finding music on the second side - where there are guitars, pianos and Eno's glockenspiel imitations. Of course, they're bound to shut the album off before the last track - a devastating, totally self-destructive, exhausting eight-minute composition entitled simply 'Stars'. It simply takes us by the scruff of the neck and pushes us back to where it all began, with layers upon layers of drearily slow, moody synths that seem to drone on forever with just about two or three notes repeated over and over. Concentrating on this stuff is impossible; however, letting it drag on by as 'background' music is hardly possible, either. Guess old Brian just put a 'final touch' on the album so that life wouldn't seem easy enough.

But 'Stars' or no 'Stars', I really dig this album. I doubt I'd ever dig the music if I'd actually seen the movie: you know how it goes, we rarely pay attention to soundtracks no matter who wrote them, unless they consist of tunes we'd heard and loved before. Issued as an album, this stuff is much more 'evident' and easy to enjoy, and who needs the movie, after all, when you've probably seen tons of NASA footage in your life already?

I give the record a seven - I doubt a purely ambient album by Eno will ever receive more than a seven, but in my book, that's pretty high, and just imagine how high it is for an ambient record. Man, that Eno sure knows how to create pure beauty with one finger...



(released by: HAROLD BUDD/BRIAN ENO)

Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Apparently, Brian now only lets people collaborate with him under the condition they don't play more than one note per minute?..


Track listing: 1) Late October; 2) A Stream With Bright Fish; 3) The Silver Ball; 4) Against The Sky; 5) Lost In The Humming Air; 6) Dark-Eyed Sister; 7) Their Memories; 8) The Pearl; 9) Foreshadowed; 10) An Echo Of Night; 11) Still Return.

Well, here's another collaboration between Eno and his Budd-y. I didn't pay it much attention when I first heard it (and naturally, that was no crime), but today it so happened that I listened to it twice in the wake of a terrorist attack in my hometown, taking away forty lives, and while normally I wouldn't be mentioning this kind of contemporary event in a musical review, I just can't get rid of the thought of how amazingly fitting this particular music is for the occasion. This is the kind of music that should be listened to when dealing with tragedy and loss; not the Cure or Joy Division to drive the sensitive souls to the brink of hysterics, not Bach or Mozart to humiliate and prostrate the low-life before the light of Eternity. Not even Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, which happens to be a surprisingly good record, by the way, but deals more with the survivors than with the deceased.

The Pearl and all these other Eno albums, on the other hand, are the perfect soundtrack to these very unpleasant moments. Solemn, to give respect to what has happened, but not overbearing, so as not to overexaggerate your own stance about it; sad, to mourn the tragedy, but not desperate or hopeless, giving new directions; beautiful, to preserve the pureness of feeling, but not "preciously" so, to get lost in the formal trappings; and above all, quiet (who needs to scream?) and personal (who needs to show off?). They don't say much, and that's a good thing, because the more words are associated with death and loss, the cheaper they get - but what they actually do say just has this "oh so perfectly right" feel to it.

Well - sorry for the rather out-of-context intro, of course, but then again, this is also a case of the intro meaning more than the actual review, because, frankly, there's little informative data and even fewer personal opinions I could give you in this case. What makes The Pearl stand on its own in Eno & Co.'s rich catalog? Well, about the only thing I could say is that it is one of Eno's most openly 'morose' experiences - where On Land and Plateaux Of Mirrors were rather 'panoramic' and Apollo was suitably dark and mysterious, this one is meditative and static, static, so painfully static... easily the most static Eno-related album until Thursday Afternoon a year later. In fact, it must have been a bit too much for Budd: where Plateaux still could be called 'minimalist classical', it's pretty hard to even begin talking of this record in terms of melodies.

I could say that Budd plays so little on here that his lenient piano tinklings and Eno's synth backgrounds make them equal partners (unlike their previous collaboration, where Eno was like a "moderator" to Budd's Prime Artist), but fact is, even Eno himself does exquisitely little here. There is exactly one track, the pretty Zen-soaked 'A Stream With Bright Fish', where both seem to work a bit harder, Budd actually playing octaves and Eno actually adding distant echoes, cricket sounds, and occasional brook babbling - and that one's my favourite. Everything else is extremely similar: same two- or three-note sequences played over and over while the synthesizer calmly hums in the background. It all reaches a "climax" of sorts on the title track, which is just Budd playing unfinished octaves over a quiet, but a bit disturbingly "puffing" Eno synth which he keeps panning from speaker to speaker - a direct precursor to the sprawling Thursday Afternoon, but here, only three minutes long.

I don't have any particular info on any 'conceptual' elements joining these tracks this time, and the names of the tracks don't really give any hints either - in that sense, the album's a mess, joining Far Eastern poetic themes ('A Stream With Bright Fish') with the naturalistic thing ('Late October' - for some reason, that name does not really click with me, as I get a winterish landscape in my imagination instead; must be all those mountain top associations I got from Budd's crystal clear piano on the 1980 album) and, maybe, indeed the kind of subjects I mentioned earlier ('Their Memories' - I hope now you do believe that introduction wasn't just written because I had nothing better to do, doncha?). Overall, it's sad, pretty sad, but not gloomy and definitely nowhere near dangerous.

That said, associations aside, I don't think it should rank among Eno's (or Budd's) best. There's really nothing on here that wasn't, with minor variations and mood shifts, done earlier on Plateaux, and I personally much prefer when Eno's being more experimental and diverse in his ambient excavations (see the Shutov Assembly review below); certainly, on its own it stands much better than within the general context of Eno-related music. It's interesting to note, by the way, that the album was produced by U2 (and future Dylan) producer Daniel Lanois - to be honest, though, I haven't noticed that much difference with the trademark Eno style, except maybe there's a little bit more echo than usual, plus that panning between speakers... well, I'm not sure. There has to be something Lanois-related on here, otherwise I have no idea why Eno would let somebody else produce his records. Then again, that same year the two of them actually teamed up to help Bono add a few pounds to his ego on The Unforgettable Fire - this might possibly have been just a side project. Recorded, for instance, on a day when U2 were too drunk to show up or something. You know better than me, anyway. I just like to make a wild guess from time to time.



Year Of Release: 1985

Aaaaaaaaaaaauaaaaaaaaaoaaaaaaaaeaaaaaaaaaaiaaaaaaaaaaaaaoaoaoaaaaa. That was my written impression of this album.

Best song: well, I don't have too much of a choice

Track listing: 1) Thursday Afternoon.

Some consider this the greatest Eno album ever made (no kidding). Then again, there are people that worship Frank Zappa's Lumpy Gravy, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, and King Crimson's THRaKaTTaK. You know what it is, doncha? The peak of Brian's ambient output. Let me just describe it for you (this won't take long). This is a CD-only release, in fact, it's one of the earliest releases specially destined for the CD format: I suppose there's a shorter version of this thing floating around on vinyl, as my liner notes carefully state 'Thursday Afternoon (61-Minute Version)'. On the cover, you'll find an interesting abstract painting by Tom Phillips. Inside, you'll find a lengthy essay on the nature of Brian Eno's music, by C.S.J. Bofop. And when you put on the CD, you'll find one instrumental composition that - sure enough - runs for sixty-one minute. The composition itself consists of (a) a steady synthesizer background, which sometimes fades away and becomes almost unhearable, but most of the time just sticks there as some nobler analog of the 'white noise'; (b) a set of electronic piano notes, disjointed, yet fluent in a peculiar way of their own, however, not exceeding a certain number - about five or six, probably. The composition is structured as a set of loops, that is, any selected piece of it is sure to be repeated at least several times. Only the last three or four minutes are different - the piano notes just go away, leaving nothing but the one-note synthesizer background.

I know, I know. Many of you are already shrugging your shoulders and sneering at this 'crap'. Indeed. This is a bit hard to take even for fans of ambient music - this is ambient taken to an absolute extreme, when it can hardly be called 'music' at all; this is not just too static in order to be music, it's far too monotonous and limited to be music. In a certain way, this is even less music than Eno's theme for Windows 97. That's why I don't give this stuff any ratings at all - it'd be too weird to see Thursday Afternoon listed in among any of the 'standard' rock albums I've reviewed here, be it the good ones or the bad ones.

But take it this way. Mr C.S.J.Bofor is perfectly right when he states in his little essay that 'we make music in new ways, and we hear music in new places'. Thursday Afternoon is an interesting composition in both senses: it's interesting to perceive the 'new way' in which it was done, and it's interesting to see how it is possible to use this album in 'new places'. In fact, the album had downright intrigued me - in a manner that no self-indulgent, snubby THRaKaTTaK ever could.

It's no coincidence that Eno used an abstract painting on the cover of the album. The principle according to which the composition is structured is called 'holographic' - that is, it is implied that any short piece of the composition is representative of the composition as a whole. Translated into simple human language, this reads: 'take thirty seconds worth of sound and repeat it over and over for an hour's length of time'. But it's not made to mask the lack of ideas or anything: the idea here is indeed to create a 'musical painting'.

The process of listening to the music presented here is thus similar to the process of enjoying a work of art: when you're enjoying any selected painting, you grab it as a whole and then spend most of your time endlessly recycling the one-time impression of the work in your mind. (Of course, you may also choose to study the details, but this is already a more 'technical' process - studying the details of a painting is more an analytical thing than a symptom of aesthetic enjoyment.) Since it is impossible to do the same thing with music that goes right through you and goes away, the technology that Eno presents is, in a certain sense, revolutionary. One might argue, saying that such things are violating the very essence of music: music is dynamic by definition, as opposed to the static visual art, and treating music this way is similar to, say, putting out a book with just one page of text repeated over and over a thousand times. Could be - but, in any case, the experiment itself is well worth trying, and it is certainly a unique and intriguing 'operation' to be performed over the musical genre as a whole.

Now, about the 'new places'. Point is, it's not totally true that Thursday Afternoon can't be enjoyed. It can. You just needn't listen to it - but, to my surprise, I found out that this music makes an excellent background for just about anything you're doing - playing, working, sleeping, eating, whatever. It produces a great relaxating effect, and could possibly be used as some kind of effective musical therapy. I don't know if anybody ever tried curing patients with ambient music, but seems like a clever idea, anyway. And then, of course, it makes a perfect setting if you're into meditation. See, the actual musical theme is quite pretty: the problem is not with the fact that this particular style of 'music' or this particular theme stinks, it's with the fact that the theme is repeated for way too long and there's nothing else on the CD. So, if you are able to find a special 'applied' use for this CD, it's quite all right.

Then again, of course, there are people who really enjoy concentrating on this stuff - I read a review of this album where the reviewer was saying that one of his friends likes to sit in his chair and listen to the CD in one sitting, all sixty-one minutes of it, and when it's over, enjoy the silence for some more time. Obviously, either this dude is a Messiah in disguise or a schizophrenic. I don't usually cooperate well with such people (to tell you the truth, I'm scared shitless of them). So I'll just stick Thursday Afternoon in from time to time when I need a little relaxation and tranquility. It'll be better than tranquilizers, anyway.



Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Not on the cutting edge any more - on this album Eno reaps the bitter fruits of the seeds he himself had planted twenty years ago.

Best song: WEB

Track listing: 1) Fractal Zoom; 2) Wire Shock; 3) What Actually Happened?; 4) Pierre In Mist; 5) My Squelchy Life; 6) Juju Space Jazz; 7) The Roil, The Choke; 8) Ali Click; 9) Distributed Being; 10) Web; 11) Web (Lascaux Mix); 12) Decentre.

Gee, this is real scary... not. Supposedly, if Nerve Net turns out to be your first Brian Eno album, and the only musical experiences you have had before are limited to 'N Sync and Matchbox 20, you'll be scared shitless and eventually come to think of Eno as somebody closely related to all the evil wizards in fairy tales. But in retrospect, Nerve Net turns out to be a somewhat patchy affair.

See, it is by no means a bad album. Moreover, it is able to grow on you - I mean, really grow, going from 'what the hell is this shit' to 'hmm, there are hidden depths in here that I didn't realize before'. But when taken in the general context of Eno's work, I can't but help thinking of it as evident proof that Eno really can't claim the Nineties for his own as well as he did for the previous decades. He ruled supreme in the Seventies, pioneering electronic and ambient genres; likewise, he ruled supreme in the Eighties, albeit in the limited sphere of his own - ambient and New Age. But the Nineties? Nerve Net is Eno at his most aggressive and dynamic since the first side of BAAS; this is still closely related to 'ambient', since the actual songs are little more than atmospheric 'trance-tunes', but most of the tracks have a rhythmic pattern to them, and stylistically this is more resemblant to generic Nineties' techno sound explorations than to anything else.

And this is a problem. Yes, all of this stuff is gloomy, spooky, full of ideas and verve; but is it still 'cutting the edge'? Hardly. Now I'm no expert on the early Nineties' techno scene; but I can easily say that even if Eno does have some pioneering importance in this genre as well (which I doubt), this time around his explorations of the genre don't differ much from everything else done in it by less notorious artists. This music never speaks to my heart like his previous output does, and much too often, it seems to me that he's struggling to keep in touch with the times rather than leading. The drumbeats, even if they are often credited to humans and are produced by real drums, not just machines, are uninvolving and far too cold and detached to be paid attention to. The synthesizers... what has happened to the synthesizers? Where Eno once brought the cold, robotic electronics to life, he now seems to be pushing it back into the 'inhumane' scaphander; I hate that kind of things.

Nevertheless, if you really dig stuff like Bowie's electronic albums of the Nineties (especially Outside, as that one was directly a collaboration with Eno), you'll be sure to like Nerve Net, at least, superficially. And it also helps a lot that the album looks like a conceptual one. To a certain extent, Nerve Net is the Nineties' equivalent of Another Green World: a mystical, enthralling journey through creepy dark places. This time, though, it doesn't take part in a macrocosm; it's a microcosm we're dealing with, the nerve system of a human. When you consider this fact, the 'conceptual' structure becomes far more clear - the music is supposed to reflect the working of the human organism, and song titles like 'Fractal Zoom' and 'Wire Shock' become far more understandable. Also, there are far less vocals here than on Green World, and even when they are there, they're electronically encoded ('What Actually Happened?').

My favourite tracks on the album are, unsurprisingly, the most relaxed: 'Pierre In Mist', for instance, a moody, certainly very 'misty' instrumental (with CSJ Bofop credited for 'mist'), with creepy echoes and sarcastic synth-horns all over the place chilling you out as Eno's sparse piano notes come out of the 'mist'. 'The Roil, The Choke' is also nice, and probably the closest thing to a real song on the album - and about the only true moment of majesty, as the layers of 'synth harmonies' employed on the track (in the vein of 'Spider And I') don't get repeated much in other places.

As for the other tracks, particular standouts are those pieces where Eno's trusty collaborator, Robert Fripp, comes out of the closet and adds surprisingly wild and vicious leads the kind of which he'd previously saved for King Crimson. In 'Distributed Being', for instance, they catch you completely at unawares and smash you against the wall: frenetic, furious, speedy and distorted, and yet completely idiosyncratic and unique, not an ounce of generic metallic garbage.

The album's centerpiece, though, and the only true Eno classic on here, is 'Web', present in two different mixes. Similar in some respects to Fripp & Eno's early collaborations, in that the essence is the same: a spooky, psychotic sonic landscape that slowly builds up towards... well, not exactly a 'tremendous climax', because there's hardly any climaxes here, but the fact is that the music slowly becomes thicker, denser, more hovering, menacing and evil, and towards the end this culminates in such inhumane, apocalyptic rip-roars of Fripp's feedback that it's only fair that the record fizzles out with 'Decentre', a forgettable, but pretty three minute instrumental that consists solely of Eno playing some relaxing 'moon piano'. Otherwise, your 'nerve net' might have been shattered forever.

All the more pitiful that overall the record is so inconsistent; but when you come to think of it, it probably could never have been consistent. Trying to fit in with the times wasn't exactly a wise decision for Eno; going out in search of a more dynamic, even 'funkier' sound probably was, but there's just a bit too much lifeless techno on here for me to count this among one of Brian's masterpieces. Quite a solid record, though - and it's bound to grow on you. Hell, who knows, maybe it's bound to grow on me! Remember that six I gave it; some day you might find it replaced by a seven. And 'Web' rules.

P.S. I still think the Nine Inch Nails **** ***. IMHO, that is.



Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

By far the most diverse ambient record ever made by Eno - which is funny, considering it's all about paintings...

Best song: ...

Track listing: 1) Triennale; 2) Alhondiga; 3) Markgraph; 4) Lanzarote; 5) Francisco; 6) Riverside; 7) Innocenti; 8) Stedelijk; 9) Ikebukuro; 10) Cavallino.

Now this sure is a consistent record. Released in the same year as Nerve Net, although this one was much longer in the making: it unites together compositions (or 'sonic landscapes', to be precise) recorded by Eno over a period of five or six years. But since both albums came out at the same time, I can't help thinking of them consisting a 'natural pair' designed to demonstrate Brian's "rougher" and "softer" sides, respectively. And the "softer" side ultimately wins, of course, provided you have some appreciation for Eno's "nothing-happening" ambient schtick at all.

Once again, Eno illustrates his "music = painting" theory, this time by providing a direct link through the title to Russian painter Sergei Shutov, an acquaintance of his (as far as I know, Eno has some serious Russian ties and has spent quite a bit of time in St Petersburg), as the album is supposed to be "art installation companion" or something like that. Goes without saying that most people who have a chance to see this record in the stores will never get a chance to see anything by Shutov, so I'll just skip that issue and concentrate on the music in its isolated form.

Basically, all of Eno's ambient records are of equal quality - except some are worse than others, but this one luckily is not an exception. It is slightly outstanding, though. I'd say Shutov Assembly, unlike Eno's more 'even' records, has a certain slight, subtle dynamics of its own, mood shifts, even, which makes the emotional reactions you get also slightly vary in pitch. Only slightly, mind you: there's not a single drop of shockin' value in the album. Essentially I suppose it has to do with the fact that Eno recorded the pieces in different periods - not over one uninterrupted session, and so, naturally, they don't gel together in such an imminent WHOLE as the tracks on, say, Apollo. Which doesn't mean they don't gel together at all. They do. But for the first time, Eno has actually created an ambient album that does sound as a 'collection of moods' rather than just a single big mood-setter. Intentionally or not, I don't really care; I'm just glad there's something so sharply and openly distinguishable about Shutov Assembly to separate it from the rest of the catalog.

See here. The album opens with 'Triennale' (the tracks are all very funnily named with nine-letter words that look great on the album cover), which has a definite Another Green World-like atmosphere. Replete with chirping of birds, too. Think Thursday Afternoon with a slightly otherworldly flavor. Then it's onto 'Alhondiga', which has some mild 'organ overtones' in it (not that these are real organs, but you'll know what I mean) - just a tinge of medieval religious flavor onto the mix, a teensy-weensy bit. Then the emotional palette makes yet another barely visible shift as we move into the echoey dreary world of 'Markgraph' - note that essentially the feeling is the same as in 'Triennale', but just with a light light light touch of 'spookiness' inside. Like a tiny wave of the painter's brush. Well, what do you want? That's friggin' minimalism for you.

'Lanzarote' leads us through a more Airport-like setting; not one of my favourite tracks. Just a lot of humming. 'Francisco' is even more humming, albeit this time the tones vary. But 'Riverside' is very nice! Or maybe not. Hmm, actually I think these three could form a certain monolithic essence. Call it "The Great Humming Trio". Then decide which type of humming is closer to your psyche, and relax. Anyway, it's getting boring, so let's skip right up to 'Ikebukuro', track number nine which is also the lengthiest and the most repetitive. It's also, I think, the most Thursday Afternoon-like sounding, except that after every single set of keyboard phrases there comes a strange 'flapping' noise, as if some huge bird were fluttering its wings or something like that. And it goes on for sixteen minutes, about twice as long as the lengthiest track out of the rest. And, of course, it never gets boring... because it's either boring from 00:01, or it ain't boring at all.

Anyway, as all quality ambient records, I'm not quite sure what to do of this one. Let's see now, if Music For Airports was the pioneering rough experience, then Plateaux Of Mirrors was a cross-linking of ambience and melody, and Thursday Afternoon was a... a... a mind-blowing trip for some and an obvious coaster for others, then this, this is more like an ideal choice for background music. Really now. I know I porbably said that about every previous record, but this one definitely is the album I will be putting on when I need something relaxating, on one hand, and totally un-concentrating, on the other (that is, something that doesn't at all require even a smudgeon of my attention). Actually, I have tried using the album for practical purposes and it worked out perfectly - not sure if my work productivity actually increased, but at least the spirits were up, and that's that.

And besides, of course all of you Eno fans will be delighted to have this stuff cuz it's all so different. So discount me on that one, because in order to truly analyze and judge Eno's sonic textures you need an ear ten times as delicate and sensitive as that of your humble reviewer. And you know how dang hard it is to procure yourself a good pair of ears? Particularly if the bottom's out of the market.



Year Of Release: 1993


Best song: ...

Track listing: 1) Neroli.

Like many of Eno's system pieces, Neroli is modal. In this case the mode is the Phrygian, whose flattened second evokes the Moorish atmosphere alluded to in the title. In this mode the seventh is also flattened, and the combination of these unusual intervals creates a mysterious tonal ambiguity. This is further emphasized in Neroli, because the root note of the mode is rarely played, whereas the fifth of the scale is prominent. Together, the blurred tonality and the lack of a distinct tonal centre give the piece a hovering, weightless character. The melodic line, with little forward momentum and no sense of pulse, disperses and coalesces into exotic new constellations.

If you happen to be as offensively ignorant about general music theory as your humble servant, there is no doubt in my mind that upon reading these lines you can't help but feel a little bit of respect towards both the author of these liner notes and the author of the music described therein. The seventh is flattened? You don't say! The fifth of the scale is prominent? Now there's something new to consider. That's genius at work, it is. And that's putting it mildly.

However, regardless of whether you have a full, satisfactory understanding of that quotation or rushing to check the exact meaning of "Phrygian mode" in your local musical encyclopaedia, I am definitely not sure you'll actually like it. Flattened sevenths and prominent fifths apart, this is basically Thursday Afternoon Vol. 2, and while I haven't gone into Eno's ambient works deep enough to guarantee that it ain't actually Vol. 3 or Vol. 33, I certainly haven't met any other opera like these in any of his "regular" discographies (it's just that he's got a ton of "irregular" discographies as well). But never mind. What is important is that, in a way, this is even more radical than Thursday Afternoon.

Because that one, at least, had layers in it - a background layer ("atmosphere") and a foreground layer (ahem, "melody"). Here, Eno goes one step further and completely eliminates the background. Thus, the only thing that happens is these minimalist synth notes played in slightly different succession... for fifty-seven minutes. It's as if The Master Of Minimum was showing us his being unsatisfied with Thursday Afternoon - showing that he can do even better, even more radical than that. Indeed, I can hardly imagine anything that could be more minimalist than Neroli; fifty minutes of total silence, maybe - but unfortunately, John Cage had already thought of that idea. So if we still stay convinced that minimalism, no matter how minimalistic it is, still has to involve sound, then Neroli is probably the most minimalist album ever recorded, and certainly the most minimalist one I've ever heard.

More importantly, it means that we can't just dismiss it as an inferior rewrite of Thursday Afternoon: in most cases, it is true, an album that says the same as its predecessor, only less, is inferior to its predecessor, but with Eno, the consensus usually is that the less he says, the more he does. Besides, it's got a different atmosphere - all due to the Phrygian mode, no doubt. The 1985 album was light, very light, almost ethereal in quality, taking its sound from the same place where Plato used to take his eidos; Neroli is darker and... well, I could say "more disturbing", except that it's pretty hard to call a minimalist ambient album "disturbing" in any sense. Not to mention that at one time it's even said to have been implemented into maternity wards to help young mothers recuperate - so "disturbing" is obviously the wrong adjective to use here. Think of yer own, then.

Naturally, I do not give this "thing" any rating, but if you really want to know about my impression, I didn't find too many positive vibes in it. In fact, in a way it functions very, very differently from Thursday Afternoon. That one, you could really use as relaxative background music. This one you can barely hear - unless you turn the sound up really really loud, but then if you do that, you'll be more likely to "enjoy" the crackles and hisses of your own speakers, fine and expensive as they might be, rather than the recorded acoustic material. Which is obviously why so many people whose opinions on Neroli I have taken into account have discussed this album along the lines of "don't listen to it loud - play it very, very quiet, maybe even merely at the brink of hearing". Thus, if Thursday Afternoon is definitely music (or, well, "a sonic texture") that exists and influences you through its existence, Neroli is a kind of illusionary sonic texture that influences you through the possibility of its non-existence.

And if you thought that last sentence smelled of nonsense, well, so did I. But what else would you expect? Once again, Mr Eno presented us with a platter that should - according to his own premeditated plan, of course - should be thought about rather than listened to. Word to Brian himself, once again, taken from the liner notes: "I wanted to make a kind of music that existed on the cusp between melody and texture, and whose musical logic was elusive enough to reward attention, but not so strict as to demand it." The one nagging question is: I have no problem with the "not so strict as to demand it" part, but does Eno really think that it takes an album like Neroli to present us with a kind of musical logic 'elusive enough to reward attention'? Is the musical logic of Neroli more elusive than that of Mozart's Requiem, or the one of the Beatles' 'Rocky Raccoon'? Or is it, in the end, just another put-on?



Year Of Release: 2001
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

A trifle for Eno, I'm sure, but it's nice to know he still got vision.

Best song: PERSIS

Track listing: 1) From This Moment; 2) Persis; 3) Like Pictures Part #1; 4) Like Pictures Part #2; 5) Night Traffic; 6) Rising Dust; 7) Intenser; 8) More Dust; 9) Bloom; 10) Two Voices; 11) Bloom (instrumental).

Maaan... and I was so hoping for another song-based album when I saw a lengthy tracklisting full of titles not consisting of nine letters each. Bummer. Then again, who was I to expect a regressive move from Mr C. S. J. Bofop in the beginning of the third millennium? I'm not even his frickin' daughter!

Who gets a very nice cameo on one of the tracks, but let's not be puttin' the cart before the horse. Drawn From Life is yet another collaboration, this time with some unknown German DJ who goes by the name of J. Peter Schwalm, and one thing at least will maybe inject some hope in the shrivelled veins of ambient haters: this is almost certainly his most dynamic record since at least My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts twenty years ago. That's not saying much, though. The addition of rhythm, instrumental variety, and relative arrangement complexity still hardly changes the essence of Eno-related music: it's still digested much better when taken as the background for any chosen activity.

In fact, one shouldn't get the wrong assumption that I am rating this higher than the majority of Brian's "fully ambient" efforts just because I, like, get to tap my foot to these feeble programmed drum rhythms. I'm just happy to see some kind of difference - for once. And besides, it's a really good record. The trouble with Brian is that at one time, he had set such an enormously high standard for himself (particularly with Another Green World, if we're talking "panoramic" music, not his pop side) that no matter how solid his current production is made to look, it's still only a shadow of the past. Taken on its own, Drawn From Life paints great pictures, but taken within the context of Eno's "pre-history" and considering the fact that it's 2001 now, not 1975, it's just... just good.

A couple tracks do show phenomenal promise. 'Persis' is almost like a seven-minute instrumental prog-rock epic, with echoes of pre-New Wave King Crimson and Can (speaking of Can, Holger Czukay is credited for "IBM dictaphone" on one of the tracks here, whatever that might mean - granted, judging by the actual sounds, I can sure imagine the guy sticking a dictaphone under the motherboard and then amplifying the results), yet essentially a typically Eno creation, with a slow, half-jazzy rhythm leniently pushing the "tune" forward as Nell Catchpole plays a relaxative Easternish violin melody and Brian predictably, but beautifully, fills all the necessary holes with his sonic effects. I particularly like the main effect, the one which sounds like water dripping off the roof of a faraway cave - gives the whole thing a sort of thrilling Aladdin feel (and I mean the real Aladdin, not Aladdisney). Then the violin starts playing a threatening martial pattern, and suddenly the composition gets a whole new twist, something which hadn't happened to Eno for a long, long time. Mood variation within one track? Blasphemy!

The other really nice track is 'Bloom', which is much more static than 'Persis' yet still has a development of its own, with Catchpole gradually coming through with still more exquisite violin (sounding seriously not unlike the instrumentation on Bjork's 'Venus As A Boy', in fact, the rhythm patterns are quite similar too... hmmm...) and Eno looping a 'becalmed' two-note keyboard sequence in the background. The icing on the cake are the incessant voiceovers from Brian's little daughter, who was seemingly just captured on tape at random moments in her early life experience and then transferred over to this thing. You'd think the "kiddie noises" would be distracting from the overall pleasant hush and lull of the experience, but no way - they fit in perfectly, and the voice editing (by Marlon Kelsey Weyeneth) is well worthy of a Grammie, provided they gave Grammies for these kinds of things. It just goes to show that few things can really be more soothing and psychologically comforting than a little kid's babbling (just as few things are more irritating and psychologically discomforting than a little kid's yelling and screaming - I wonder if any industrial/hardcore pioneers ever thought of that?). Those who still disagree can just substitute the voicover variant of the track with the bonus "instrumental" take tacked on to the bottom of the CD, although I personally find it expendable.

The rest of the compositions don't really go beyond "okay", and it looks like most of them don't really plan to. Longtime friend Laurie Anderson makes a vocal cameo on 'Like Pictures Part 2', apparently to fill it with some sort of conceptual sense ("some things are just pictures..."), but the vocals are so sparse and scattered and the rest of the tune is so un-outstanding in its simple slow-danceable groove that the concept is quite lost on me. 'Night Traffic' continues the good old tradition of having the music actually visually match the song title, and would work fantastically well in the soundtrack to just about any current arthouse movie dedicated to night life, but it's still stuck somewhere in between arresting minimalism and fascinating symphony (being thus neither truly arresting nor genuinely fascinating). For 'Rising Dust', Eno - for reasons unclear to me - suddenly remembers about the existence of such an old gimmick as the talkbox, and uses it throughout the track to encode something that's naturally undecodable. Maybe he keeps singing "Sweet Satan, please accept these steaming bowels of this freshly flayed little boy". I dunno. I just think it's rather odd when a Brian Eno track suddenly brings memories of Peter Frampton to mind, although I do realize that when you associate an Eno track with something "rather odd", that's often exactly the desired purpose.

In any case, you get the drift: Eno has created something that lies in between "comatose" and "jiggly", and the way we evaluate it really depends very much on whatever were his actual intentions. As a bold progressive statement - and judging by the amount of time and effort and guest stars and various locations where it was recorded, it could be interpreted as such - it doesn't really work. If there are musical innovations here, you'll have to look for them with a magnifying glass, a procedure for which I simply don't have time. But as just another record in the usual vein, if it's put on par with Apollo or Shutov Assembly and the like, it's another nice offering from The Sound Master showing that, if anything, he hasn't yet run out of creative gas. And if he now draws inspiration from the younger members of his family - well then, more power to the man!


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