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Eno's Finest Forty Two Minutes

PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2005 11:10 am
by howard male
When Charlie introduced a new 'song' from Brian Eno on Saturday's show he did it without ceremony. This seemed strange to me. My first thought was - isn't this Eno's first solo album of songs for nearly 30 years?! Yes - he's produced pop and rock albums for other artists, and collaborated on song-related projects, but, unless I'm mistaken, the last time he went it alone with the verse-chorus-middle eight thing, I was still wearing flares.

The music of his I've always had the most affection for, is the early song-orientated work. It's hard to summon much enthusiasm for his icy instrumentals, which culminated in him producing software to generating endless random chord cycles. Such eternal sonic watercolours, seem to me about as welcoming as a featureless desert horizon, when your truck has just broken down.

But 'Here Come the Warm Jets' - now you're talking! Eno's first and best solo album. His least detached, and his most delightfully flawed, chocolate box of songs. This Being his first post Roxy Music project, the musicians included most of Roxy (you can guess which member didn't show) plus Robert Fripp, so how could he go wrong?

No doubt Eno - the studio perfectionist of today - would find 'Warm Jets' a scrappy, demo-quality collection of deeply flawed doodles. But what I hear, whenever I revisit it, is ten short pieces/songs. Each one, a grainy Super-8, surrealist movie - scratchy, catchy, and of another world, where the personality of the music is actually allowed to escape through the cracks in Eno's imperfect mastery of his medium.

I feel that the better Eno became as a manipulator of sound, the more sterile the results. I'm After 1977's 'Before and After Science' he kind of lost my interest in him as a recording artist. Even though I admired the fact he could have been more against the grain of the times if he'd tried. Curiously, the same over-perfectionist's fate befell the other Brian (Bryan) in Roxy. Maybe the lesson here is - the search for perfection can so often turn a sparkling, inviting thing, into a gleaming, forbidding thing.

But to return to 'Warm Jets'. When I get around to replaying it, about once every five years, it still manages to sound like it comes from the future. It still unfolds like a gaudy flower, revealing fresh facets, and miraculously recontextualising itself to the current scene. It pre-echoed punk with tracks like 'Blank Frank' and 'Needles in the Camel's Eyes'. The former, still has an electric, visceral unpleasantness and directness, tempered by mordant wit. Its snarling, camp vocal anticipating John Lydon by at least 3 years. It cleverly conceals its sophistication with one of the best dumb noise guitar solos to ever push the needle into the red. Then there's 'The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch' which sounds like Talking Heads meets space-age Noel Coward. Plus seven other songs which pretty much don't sound like anything else you've ever heard before, and don't sound much like each other either.


I'm not normally that keen on those English pop albums which have a kind of self-conscious Bonzo do dah eccentricity. But 'Warm Jets', whilst having Eno's oh-so-arch, absurdist lyrics - delivered with a King Singer's precise chorale diction - is somehow a diffent animal. Because 'Warm Jets' looks forwards rather than backwards. Each song's a new sonic adventure. Each song alone, could, and probably did, launch a thousand art school bands, from Magazine to Franz Ferdinand. Perhaps we have here our very own 'White Light/White Heat' We just haven't acknowledged it yet.

And now with 'Another Day on Earth', Eno's doing songs again - inadvertently inviting comparisons with earlier work. Perhaps he too listened to Warm Jets for the first time in many a year, and thought - actually this is pretty good. Could it be that our greatest musical experimentalist, conceptualist and theorist has, at last, and not before time, concluded that it is in fact the pop song which is the greatest musical legacy of the twentieth century. That all his sonic noodlings were merely an insignificant footnote to the fag-end of Western classical modernism? I do hope so.

I wasn't as convinced as I'd like to have been by my first hearing of 'This' -the track Charlie chose to play from the new album - and the only track I've heard so far myself. But what can compete with the historically sanctified? This is the fate of all trailblazers, if not all successful artists. It must be to an artist's eternal frustration, that fans are always harking back to what the artist sees as their first faltering steps along a steep learning curve, whilst the fans see that same clumsy work, as a pinnacle of achievement. So, In the extremely unlikely circumstances that Mr Eno reads this piece:

I do apologise Brian, but this isn't just me being nostalgic - 'Here Come the Warm Jets' is unsurpassable. It's the curse of the artist to forever be trying to recapture the electric energy of their flawed, but so much more exciting, early work. Perhaps you feel the same way about Lou Reed, Orson Wells or Woody Allen?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 07, 2005 9:22 am
by howard male
There's a wonderful bit at the end of this article, suggesting American kids could listen to Arabic music to piss off their parents. World music as the new punk rock? I like it!


'Everyone is entertained to death'

Brian Eno, aka the brainiest person in pop, tells Alexis Petridis why
his attempts to oust the prime minster were destined to fail

Tuesday June 7, 2005
The Guardian

The interviewer who feels slightly intimidated by the prospect of
meeting Brian Eno is unlikely to be much reassured by the west London
studio where, according to the diary he published in 1994, rock music's
most celebrated intellectual regularly starts work at 4am. The problem
is not the room itself. On the contrary, it is vast and light and
welcoming, rather whimsically decorated with a series of ghetto
blasters attached to the walls by chains, a mirrored disco ball hanging
from the ceiling and a collection of foreign cigarette packets on a
bookshelf: brand names include the promising-sounding Double Happiness
and the more troubling Mania.

The problem lurks among the series of whiteboards propped against the
bookshelf. Some merely contain the kind of things you would expect to
see in the workspace of the man that journalist and broadcaster Stuart
Maconie dubbed "Professor Eno" - "From Hydrogen to Emergence" reads
one, above a diagram of something impenetrable. Another, which carries
a list of Eno's appointments, is more worrying. It's not so much seeing
your own name there, with the time of the meeting and its purpose
meticulously noted in different coloured markers, but seeing the
company it keeps. There's a lunch with Tom Stoppard. A dinner with Paul
Simon. A meeting with Anita Roddick. Somehow, you get the impression
that your interview might not be the highlight of an otherwise dull
week.

Famously well-connected in the way that only someone who both produced
U2's breakthrough album and recently lectured on Einstein's special
theory of relativity can be, Eno has expanded his circle of contacts
into ever more surprising areas over the past year. He produces a
minidisc recorder, with which he intends to tape the interview. "It's
not because I'm going to check up on you," he says, "it's a way I have
of writing things. Because I speak fairly coherently, it's not
difficult to transcribe them and you don't have to do much to make them
printworthy."

He removes a disc and hands it to his assistant. "Can you label that
one Frederick Forsyth?" he asks. The thriller writer has become an ally
in Eno's ongoing crusade to unseat the prime minister. They first met
as part of the motley collection of public figures brought together in
the "impeach Blair" campaign: "I thought it was a brilliant collection
of people, actually," he protests. "Corin Redgrave, Frederick Forsyth,
Harold Pinter, Ian McEwan. The MPs were quite an interesting lot as
well - Boris Johnson. You've got to pay attention when that group of
people decide to go into a room together."

Forsyth managed to persuade Reg Keys, whose son was among the British
soldiers killed in Iraq, to stand against the PM in his Sedgefield
constituency. "He came up to Sedgefield to speak on behalf of Reg
Keys," says Eno. "The disc I just took out of here was a recording of
what he said, which was just brilliant. I'll do the first line for you,
because I've heard it a few times." His voice takes on a strident,
declamatory tone. "'Men. Women of Sedgefield. I am not of you. And you
are not of me. I am from the south. And you are from the north. From
the kingdom of Durham. Home to the Prince Bishops.' It was a fabulous
speech. It really was like a Shakespearian speech, 15 minutes long. I
transcribed it afterwards, for our website, and the only thing I took
out was a single 'um'. It was amazing."

Eno's own experience of canvassing in Sedgefield was more
disheartening. He went knocking on doors in support of Reg Keys, and
people pretended to be out. This must have been a novel experience for
someone who has spent the past four decades being sought out and feted
by everyone from the world's biggest rock bands to the Getty Museum,
who apparently wanted his thoughts on how best to store their long-term
collection.

"I felt like a Jehovah's Witness actually," he says. "In fact, I looked
like one, because I had this black coat on - I must show it to you." He
rushes behind the bookcase and emerges wearing a nondescript raincoat.
"I must say, if I saw myself knocking on the door wearing this, I
probably wouldn't answer either. That may have been a mistake, but I
didn't want to wear pop star clothes. I thought, that would really piss
me off, if I was somebody in a house in Sedgefield, and some pop star
comes knocking on my door. Of course, there were a few interesting
conversations, but it was mostly extremely discouraging, in the sense
that you thought: nobody cares at all about this." Did anybody come to
the door and go, Bloody hell, you're Brian Eno? "No. Nobody recognised
me at all. I didn't think anybody would. It wasn't that kind of
neighbourhood, you know."

He thinks the problem is that "everybody is entertained to death.
There's so much entertainment going on, there's so much to distract
yourself and it all looks so much more interesting than politics." He
doesn't own a television. "I gave it up because I'm a potential addict.
I know that if I had a television in my flat I would convince myself
that everything on it was really interesting. I would say, 'I'm a
Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here! is so sociologically fascinating that I
think I'd better watch.' If I just start grazing, I'll graze forever."
He grins a charming grin that reveals a gold tooth near the front of
his mouth: a solitary, incongruous hint of bling in an otherwise sober
ensemble of dark suit and cropped hair.

At 57, he has aged with more dignity than anyone who saw him in his
brief but glorious reign as Roxy Music's glam era synthesizer wizard -
"a vampy transsexual jester in black ostrich plumes and heavy purple
eyeshadow", as one history of glam rock put it - might have expected.

"When I started out in music, people couldn't resolve the image with
the fact that I was articulate, that I liked talking about ideas," he
says. "OK, here's this guy who looks like this, but he talks like that.
He's supposed to be a rock musician, why's he so bloody brainy and
worthy? At that time, part of the idea of the rock musician was 'I am
pure unchannelled passion', the Rolling Stones idea that it just
possesses you and comes out of you and you don't know where it comes
from and you don't even want to know. But I did want to know - that was
part of what I was interested in it for. So now, because we have that
phrase, Professor Eno, egghead, everybody thinks, oh that's him, of
course he would talk like that, wouldn't he? I feel very happy with
that description."

Nevertheless, Eno's new album, Another Day on Earth, harks back to his
past, if only by dint of the fact that it is the first time he has
released an album entirely comprised of songs since 1974's Taking Tiger
Mountain (By Strategy). His decision seems to have been prompted less
by reasons of nostalgia - a huge chunk of his remarkable back catalogue
was reissued last year, but he declined to give interviews to promote
it - than by a declining interest in the instrumental "ambient" music
he invented in the late 1970s.

"I started to notice that you could buy keyboards of such complexity
that you basically press one note on them and you've got a career as an
ambient artist. I thought, there doesn't seem much challenge in that
any longer." Instead, he says, he has been trying to rethink the way
songs are written. His voice on the album comes laden with effects, in
an attempt to "break down the idea that the voice represents the
personality of the music and that that voice is my voice, speaking to
you - I hate that idea".

He is also working on an extremely complicated-sounding machine that
can generate song lyrics, "with a friend of mine who's actually one of
the world's leading computer scientists, so we might come up with a
solution". Like most of his ideas it sounds fascinating, but not all of
them have taken off. In the early 1990s, he confidently predicted that
pop would soon be overtaken by "self-generating" music, made by
computers with the minimum of human input. When the subject arises, he
briefly brandishes his iPod - "it lets an environment randomly create
itself out of elements that I've chosen, I'd call that generative" -
then concedes: "It hasn't happened as quickly as I expected, but then
again ambient didn't happen as quickly as I expected. If you remember,
it was a dirty word for about 10 or 15 years, whereas I thought,
'Everybody will catch on to this, it's so obvious, I'll be redundant
and have to think of something else to do.' I'm sort of waiting for
generative to catch up, but I think it is."

In the meantime, he has a new idea. "I think we're about ready for a
new feeling to enter music. I think that will come from the Arabic
world. I just bought this record the other day, I don't even know the
name of the artist, because I can't read Arabic. I heard it in a
newsagent around the corner and thought, wow, this is the most
sophisticated production. It's completely commercial, totally Arabic
and totally viable for this world, just like the blues completely
suffused the music of the early 1960s, woke it up and got it out of
Cliff Richard and all this sort of thing and made it kind of dirtier
and rougher and more lively and sexy. I think Arabic music is a similar
prospect." He grins again. "I'd love it if American kids were listening
to Muslim music. Wouldn't that piss their parents off?"

· Another Day on Earth is out on June 13 on Opal

PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2005 7:58 am
by howard male
Eno is on Radio 3's 'Mixing It' tonight at 10.15, discussing...probably everything.

Eno on Question Time

PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2005 9:49 am
by zee
Apparently he is also on Question Time (Radio 4) tonight.