Perfect Sound Forever

Brian Eno: A Sandbox In Alphaville

By Lester Bangs
Part 4 of 4

Copyright 2003 Ben Catching III. All rights reserved. Used with permission.



Here Come The Warm Jets (Island, 1974): Today some of the this solo debut sounds inconclusive, the overreachings of a whiz kid. But the predominant feel is a strange mating of edgy dread ("Driving Me Backwards") with wild first-time-out exuberance. "I was just in a mad moon, really, when I did it," says Eno today, "and also had this feeling of incredible freedom." There's a Beatlesy pop sentimentality (and Sgt. Pepperishly cinematic sound) to things like "Cindy Tells Me," "Needles in the Camel's Eye" still sounds to me like some previously unimaginable mix of Buddy Holly and the Velvet Underground, and the underground standard "Baby's On Fire" features perhaps the greatest guitar solo Robert Fripp will ever play in his life.

Before and After Science (Island, 1978): Career neurosis time: the weakest of his four "song" albums, as he admits, this lacks the peaks of its predecessors, and (on the first side anyway) sounds a mite disjunct. But still a fine, fine record. Foretells his current return to "idiot energy," with unmistakable (and previously undisplayed) funk influence in places. The second side is classic autumnal fairytale music, and Fripp tears out another corruscating solo in "King's Lead Hat." "I've never found a record as hard to make as Before and After Science-- it was real painstaking, grueling work. I had to push this along, somehow."


FRIPP & ENO: (No Pussyfooting) (Island, 1974) and Evening Star (Island import, 1975): (No Pussyfooting) may have had as much to do with Eno's departure from Roxy Music as Ferry's paranoia. It's compromised of two long jams, the first of which took place when Eno invited Fripp over to fool around in his home studio in late 1972. What they got was so interesting and they had such an obvious chemistry that they cut another a few months later and put this album out concurrent with Stranded, over the vigorous objections of Eno's management, who thought it would damage his "image" and/or chances for solo/pop stardom. Fripp was one of the few instrumentalists Eno had ever met who understood in front the sensibility of sparse playing when it was going to be channeled through all the echoing corridors of Eno's tape-delay system. Evening Star contains a retort to those who'd accuse Eno's ambient phase of being pleasantly placid to the point of insipid: "An Index of Metals," which fills all of side two, has a quiet malevolence that's chilling.

Music For Films (Antilles, 1978): 18 short pieces written either for films he was hired to score or films unmade yet outside of his mind, each of these little vignettes paints a palpable mood, conjuring mental images that vary from listener to listener, but seem to run to the sylvan, pastoral or aquatic. Good drug album, needless to say. Also features more players than any of his other ambient albums, making it something of a smaller-scaled (and vocal-less) cousin to Another Green World.

Music For Airports (Ambient, 1979): His biggest seller and the album that is beginning to try some people's patience in that there are now more ambient albums out under his name than "regular" ones, and this doesn't add a whole lot to what he's already said in the genre. Still, it's very pleasant, as any album explicitly designed to "get them prepared for death" well ought to be. "I wasn't joking about that. I meant that one of the things music can do is change your sense of time so you don't really mind if things slip away or alter in some way. It's about getting rid of people's nervousness."


801 Live (with Roxy's Phil Manzanera and others); June 1, 1974 (with John Cale, Nico and Kevin Ayers) (both Island, 1977 and 1974 respectively): Eno live might seem to be a contradiction in terms, but on both these sets he acquits himself estimably, though neither's an essential album. He's more powerful in his two cuts on June 1, more present on 801.


Talking Heads, Devo, Ultravox, No New York (various labels): In the past few years Eno has been much in demand as producer, various (mostly New Wave) groups counting on his touch to highlight their own strengths. Ultravox is a band too fundamentally uninteresting for anybody to save, Devo are there if you want 'em (sounds like tinkertoy music to me), and the second and third Talking Heads albums are so far the pinnacles of his production career. As for Antilles' No New York compendium (The Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, D.N.A.), these are some of the most interesting-- though brutally inaccessible-- new groups around. They've pushed rock experimentalism to a number of its absolute extremes, which Eno calls "doing research" that'll be helpful for everybody else. I listen to them for fun, too, but must say that they've been produced far better elsewhere: he deliberately mixed them muddy, hoping to reproduce the hazy kineticism of the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat: it doesn't work, but it's worth buying anyway.

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER