Eno: Some Suggestions (in Plain English)
This blog was originally published on the eve of 2018 which marked the 70th birthday of Brian Eno. It occurred to me that while he is often spoken about, written about and admired, there wasn’t really a generic overview of best bits; solo and collaborative, which as you may imagine is a formidable body of work, so here’s my take on things both sonic and visual. *disclaimer – this is just what I like, it is near impossible to cover everything he’s produced.
FRIPPERY ON ALL FOURS
The first four Eno records are often lauded as masterpieces by all and sundry but not me. Of those first four I’ll take ‘Another Green World’ but that’s about it. Had I been 18 in 1974 it may have been a different story. While his intellect was clearly firing on all cylinders for the first two it’s only on the third that the music begins to crystallise and even then only on its instrumentals.
Things like ‘I’ll Come Running (To Tie Your Shoe)’ still have an almost naive yet adorable seventies vibe running through it however it’s the instrumentals which bear the more weighty fruit, especially In Dark Trees and Sombre Reptiles; Peruvian disco?
Before and After Science has its moments but again it’s still very much a seventies record, the original vinyl version of having the more poppy upbeat moments on one side and the slower dreamy ambient pieces on the other was a good idea though.
I know what you’re thinking; what about the collaborations with Robert Fripp? For me the best of those occurs a few decades later however Evening Star’s Wind on Water is an assured beauty – light, airy, effortless, and as the title suggests a breeze. The collaboration with Germany’s Cluster is also worth a listen.
What no Music For Airports!? Nope, I’m afraid not, what that is – is in fact the anti-music for airports, I’d like to hear him tackle the literal music for airports however, I do quite like Plateaux of Mirror and Laraaji’s meditative Day of Radiance in the AMBIENT quartet (we’ll get to On Land shortly).
The next beast I rate is (of course) My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The title alone is brilliant even if it is borrowed (from Amos Tutuola’s book of the same name). The overall sonic mayhem which lies between funk (Help Me Somebody), avant grade (Come With Us) and sonorous global music (Moonlight in Glory) ensures this is a work which will never date.
Topping it all off is the astounding Mountain of Needles. I am really pleased they spent longer on the album and that the original running order never saw the light of day.
Now to ‘On Land,’ pensive, dark, menacing but somehow very very beautiful. Yes Eno has a particular penchant for making the sombre sublime!
Lizard Point’s ambient meditation sets us on course, like a boat released from its moorings and set adrift on an uncertain voyage; a slow pensive motion while the closing gloom of Dunwich Beach in autumn paints an eerie yet mesmerising eclogue.
FILM STARS AND PEARLS
Well yes, it’s almost there but Daniel Lanois Americana leanings ruin it as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, they are lovely pieces but not on this album, they belong on a separate recording. Eno’s Under Stars may be brooding but it’s exactly what I’d expect to hear, almost like being in a hopeless state, drowning in the vastness of space.
Perhaps with that in mind, I don’t really play it too often. So what to hear from Apollo? Anything but the aforementioned and Deep Blue Day – which everyone seems to love purely because of its appearance in or on ‘Train Spotting’ though it does little for me.
The mid-eighties was a still point as Eno took to production however it still gave birth to Thursday Afternoon and The Pearl (one of the ‘go to’ albums of the ambient genre Eno titled).
Lost in the Humming Air is more or less a condensed and abbreviated Thursday Afternoon. Their Memories is a reworked and much better realised version of The Chill Air from Budd and Eno’s first collaboration The Plateaux of Mirror.
Never really got the first or second of the films trilogy but LOVED the third. So many things on here including one of my intended funeral pieces in Harold Budd’s Balthus Bemused by Colour (hereby mixed by Eno).
Not quite sure why Balthus, I would have preferred Barnett Newman or Rothko still regardless of artiste, it’s pretty as a picture. Asian River perfectly executes its subject matter; dry arid, a languid cruise or looking from above. Otherwise Eno is spooky on this – Sirens for example.
WRONG WAY UP AND THE ASSEMBLY OF SQUELCHY NERVES
Most of Wrong Way Up is a winner from the opening Lay My Love, the cloudless blue sky brightness of One Word and the quirky Been There, Done That – it’s possibly his most poppy album ever along with John Cale who fronts the forlorn and exquisite Cordoba.
I don’t really rate Nerve Net at all but I do like its artwork especially on the reissues without the typography, Eno is really good at putting shitty typography on otherwise arresting imagery.
These are worth mentioning as they feature some curiosities such as the wonderful Mist/Rhythm, Dawn Marshland and Beach Boy-esque Stiff from the then unreleased Squelchy Life album.
Passengers is really Eno using his cash cow as a sonic experiment with modest success in the opening space dream United Colours. If only it had been a two minute intro to Slug it would have been a total success.
Likewise, Beach Sequence would have been ok had it been fully developed into a more realised song, that and Miss Sarajevo resonate best and I quite like the Orientally Ito Okashi too but mostly it’s just noise; juju space jazz or Music For Films 4.
It may have been this album that spawned the nameless mini-movement of the latter nineties (Simple Minds Neapolis and Secrets albums, Blur’s late 90s output and No-Man‘s Wild Opera, possibly Duran’s Medazzaland and TV Mania too) otherwise Larry Mullen’s statement that a line between interesting music and self indulgence had been crossed was painfully correct.
The Same year Eno produced Spinner with Jah Wobble, it’s an easily better listen from the sexy Steam to recalled Gardens.
MILLIONS OF STARS AND PAINTINGS BEYOND A MILK SEA
The new Millennium saw what to me is the finest collaboration with Robert Fripp; The Equatorial Stars of which the first two are in keeping with Apollo’s Stars, slow burning beauties, almost like stars themselves, simply fucking gorgeous!
Another Day on Earth which is largely miss rather than hit though How Many Worlds and Bottomliners are reasonable. 77 Million Paintings possesses some definitive Eno-mo’s (Eno moments) notably the cool nocturne of System Piano with its irregular rhythm pattern.
Small Craft is a further lunar study and could easily be described as a revision of Apollo or Apollo 2010 if you prefer. Some of it is pure noise (Flint March, Calcium Needles), and some is pure form such as the companion piano pieces of Emerald and Lime/Emerald and Stone. For me the concise title track and the closing Invisible are proof of a master at work.
LUXURY IN THE HIGH LIFE OF MAYBES
Lux is mere meditation, strange to think he dropped the ‘music for thinking’ moniker after Neroli as it will always be relevant to his ambient recordings.
When I played it to one of my Chinese colleagues he said it felt like he was in a temple or shrine which sums up this, a little like a companion to the Neville Brothers version of ‘With God on Our Side’ (co-incidentally produced by Lanois).
The two albums with Karl Hyde are yin and yang; the first, Someday World is song based and the victor of the two in my opinion. It’s also the last strong collection he’s produced. While the tinny opening single The Satellites may have crashed, Daddy’s Car soars in flight!
More rhythmic mischief prods A Man Wakes Up to life, lyrically sharp and bubbling with brilliance! Can it get any better?
Almost, it’s kind of a two way tie with Mother of a Dog, a sonic cocktail of maroon moodiness, a twilight journey through a forest which eventually opens to a clearing, it’s the most fascinating concoction with the least likely conclusion – like the Beach Boys following Depeche Mode.
High Life has excellent cover imagery which may be based on the hillside houses of Thessaloniki. Some of its content is dazzlingly beautiful (Return and Lilac but you really have to be in the mood for both).
Initially I wrote it off but over repeated listens glimmers of magic like specks of colour in a child’s kaleidoscope appear. Ultimately it’s another experimental excursion which may have been better served as an EP.
REFLECTIONS ON A SHIP FINDING SHORE
This clutch of releases is at best so so, a little like Nerve Net and Shutov, they are here more so for their visuals than the sounds and most of what I’ve heard from all three operate with an ominous undercurrent streaming through the work not unlike Harold Budd.
The Ship’s typography resembles the last PINK FLOYD album, wonder why it seems to be the font of choice for records named after things of a watery nature.
Finding Shore has something of the seventies about it, just check out that cover art and sure enough it lies somewhere between Cluster and On Land. It’s neither lost at sea or something to write home about.
MIXING COLOURS AND MORE MUSIC FOR FILM
Inevitably (as with all creatives) since writing this in 2017 Brian has produced further work. In 2020 a year so horrendous it makes 1992 seem almost tolerable, he has issued two works. One with his brother Roger – Mixing Colours appeared on the 20th of March.
This could easily be called AMBIENT 5 Music for Empty Cathedrals or something similar. Twinkly watercolour lullabies on what sound like a treated electric piano. If Dean Friedman made an ambient album this might be it.
But some of it is very similar. Imagine a series of photographs of the same wall taken mere seconds apart. In other words variations on a theme, they are pleasant but over 18 tracks (25 on the expanded version) the palette wears thin.
I am all for minimalism (Thursday Afternoon for example) but the other problem for me being a synesthete is that none of the colours match my own perception of them.
There’s Wintergreen, Burnt Umber, Blonde (which to me is red), Dark Sienna, Deep Saffron, Verdigris, Desert Sand (a little like Fripp’s November Suite), and Cerulean Blue. Ultramarine recalls the work with Harold Budd, while Pewter shimmers like John Foxx’s ambient work (Cathedral Oceans, London Overgrown) and the church like Obsidian is also very nice.
The second offering flirts an ongoing fascination with film. If only he hadn’t already used the Music for Film moniker thrice. The 13th of November 2020 sees a curated body of work spanning five decades. Most of these are known to Eno-philes but there are some off-cuts. Whatever your thoughts Eno’s place in history is assured.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, see my MEDIA and UNIVERSITY pages. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Blog originally posted December 2017.
In Dark Trees (from Another Green World) – Brian Eno
Sombre Reptiles (from Another Green World) – Brian Eno
Julie With (from Before and After Science) – Brian Eno
Wind on Water (from Evening Star) – Fripp & Eno
Fur Luise (from Cluster & Eno) – Cluster & Eno
Selange (from Cluster & Eno) – Cluster & Eno
Final Sunset (from Music for Films) – Brian Eno
Delta Rain Dream (from Possible Musics) – Jon Hassell/Brian Eno
A Secret Life (from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts) – Brian Eno/David Byrne
Moonlight in Glory (from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts) – Brian Eno/David Byrne
Mountain of Needles (from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts) – Brian Eno/David Byrne
Lizard Point (from On Land) – Brian Eno
Dunwich Beach Autumn 1960 (from On Land)
Solo Guitar with Tin Foil (from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts expanded edition) – Brian Eno/David Byrne
Signals (from Apollo) – Brian Eno with Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois
Drift (from Apollo) – Brian Eno with Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois
Stars (from Apollo) – Brian Eno with Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois
Lost in the Humming Air (from The Pearl) – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Their Memories (from The Pearl) – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Foreshadowed (from The Pearl) – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
An Echo of Night (from The Pearl) – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Asian River (from Music for Films III) – Brian Eno
Tension Block (from Music for Films III) – Brian Eno
One Word (from Wrong Way Up) – Eno/Cale
Cordoba (from Wrong Way Up) – Eno/Cale
Spinning Away (from Wrong Way Up) – Eno/Cale
Footsteps (from Wrong Way Up) – Eno/Cale
Stiff (from My Squelchy Life) – Brian Eno
Wire Shock (from Nerve Net) – Brian Eno
The Roil The Choke (from Nerve Net) – Brian Eno
Ali Click (from Nerve Net) – Brian Eno
Distributed Being (worth it for the Fripp solo in the middle)(from Nerve Net) – Brian Eno
Lanzerotti (from The Shutov Assembly) – Brian Eno
Cavallino (from The Shutov Assembly) – Brian Eno
Neroli (from Neroli – Music for Thinking) – Brian Eno
Mist/Rhythm (from ENO BOX Instrumental) – Brian Eno
Always Returning II (from ENO BOX Instrumental) – Brian Eno
Thursday Afternoon (edit) (from ENO BOX Instrumental) – Brian Eno
Ikebukuro (edit) (from ENO BOX Instrumental) – Brian Eno
Beach Sequence (from Original Soundtracks) – Passengers
Steam (from Spinner) – Eno/Wobble
Garden Recalled (from Spinner) – Eno/Wobble
Marine Radio (from Spinner) – Eno/Wobble
Meissa (from The Equatorial Stars) – Fripp & Eno
Lyra (from The Equatorial Stars) – Fripp & Eno
System Piano (from 77 Million) – Brian Eno
Targa Summer (from 77 Million) – Brian Eno
Small Craft on a Milk Sea (from Small Craft on a Milk Sea) – Brian Eno
Lesser Heaven (from Small Craft on a Milk Sea) – Brian Eno
A Man Wakes Up (from Someday World) – Eno/Hyde
Mother of a Dog (from Someday World) – Eno/Hyde
Winter Green (from Mixing Colours) – Roger and Brian Eno
Obsidian (from Mixing Colours) – Roger and Brian Eno
Ultramarine (from Mixing Colours) – Roger and Brian Eno
Cinnabar (from Mixing Colours) – Roger and Brian Eno
Pewter (from Mixing Colours) – Roger and Brian Eno
Images as always from discogs.com