“Snake guitar” is one of a number of entertaining credits to be found in the sleeve notes for 1975’s ‘Another Green World’, the third Brian Eno solo album. Speaking to Lester Bangs a few years later, Eno explained how his playing on ‘Sky Saw’ evoked “the way a snake moves through the brush: a sort of speedy, forceful, liquid quality.” And that’s long before the record reaches the “spasmodic percussion” of ‘Golden Hours’. Taken in isolation, such attributions can sound a little pretentious, but they are neat little nods to the rather rapid and distinctive creative path upon which Eno embarked as he attempted to carve out his own, very particular place in the rock landscape of the seventies. The story of how he arrived there is summarised and appended via these four noteworthy releases.
It is not just because of his wilfully perverse descriptions of sound that writing about one of our greatest living artists is difficult. It’s a little like crafting a sizeable tome on the intricacies of World of Warcraft: if you care enough to want to read it, you almost certainly already know everything that’s in it. And yet, these beautifully produced, 2x45rpm half-speed remastered vinyl editions of four of Eno’s finest records should ensnare more than just the faithful. There is plenty of wonky pop here, alongside tipsy, mechanical rock, striking instrumental washes and a healthy disregard for whatever else was going on at the time of creation.
Working within a tight budget and conscious of the need to deliver relative success after his time with Roxy Music, Eno surrounded himself with familiar if not necessarily compatible faces, with portions of King Crimson, Hawkwind and, of course, the band he had so recently departed all represented within the personnel behind his solo debut, 1974’s ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’. A record that pulls in multiple directions, often simultaneously, it highlights Eno experimenting with different lead singer personae, sometimes performing as beautifully as he ever has, other times sneering in a flatly combative monotone.
It’s no surprise that the artist who went on to do so much within the sphere of ambient music paid more attention to the sound than the words, but the lyrics here were improvised by singing along to tapes from the studio until some sort of meaning crystallised. This method is most commonly cited when calling bullshit on Eno’s claim that ‘Dead Finks Don’t Talk’ isn’t about Bryan Ferry. He may well have “sung whatever came into my mind,” but it’s harder to dismiss the moments of musical Roxy pastiche also present in that track.
Subconscious controversies aside, ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ justifies its longstanding reputation plainly by being a joyously raucous listen. It lacks direction but not ambition and is curiously timeless thanks to its sincere sense of creative exploration. The fuzzy guitars of the album’s final and titular track offer a grinding moment of pure exultation, vocals barely even used.
Reissue programmes naturally throw major works together, spitting out a richly overpowering menu that removes the contemporary timeframe and context around the releases of those records. However, Eno’s run of form was such that his solo debut was followed by ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’ only ten months later. With a considerably smaller cast and a marginally smaller scope, it feels a little less remarkable than its predecessor, despite being a little more accomplished.
The now-legendary oblique strategies approach was first adopted, albeit in a much looser, nascent form, during this album’s recording. Now available in neatly laminated 40-quid form from his web shop, the 1974 incarnation involved scribbled phrases like ‘listen to the quiet voice’ and ‘abandon normal instruments’.
Album highlight, ‘Put A Straw Under Baby’, features some celestial vocal assistance from Robert Wyatt and a warped orchestral conclusion. The conventional chronological narrative suggests that a line should then be drawn from this release to 1975’s ‘Another Green World’, the third of the titles reissued in this cluster, but that was only distantly related to what had gone before. A far more fitting bedfellow is 1977’s ‘Before And After Science’, which took two years to complete, caught up as it was amongst work on a pair of ambient records and Bowie’s ‘Low’ and ‘“Heroes”’.
Opener ‘No One Receiving’ is an immediate nod to his then recent work with the Thin White Duke, driven by malevolent funk and a disco rhythm, while ‘Backwater’ is stirringly antiquated and overtly English in its endearingly shiny presentation. The warm beauty of ‘Here He Comes’ presents the multi-tracked sonorous vocal style he still intermittently deploys on his records some 40 years hence. ‘Before And After Science’ troubled Eno at the time of its release, at least partly as a consequence of its fractured gestation, but it is arguably the most effective distillation of what he was working towards on those first two solo outings, emboldened and a little threatened by the experience of playing on the seismic Bowie albums. It’s the least likely of these four to get a fanfare in the 21st Century, but the one most deserving of a little quality time so as to elevate it alongside more obvious classics like the remaining title in the half-speed mastered quartet.
While this set of reissues reinforces the narrative that these four albums belong together, ‘Another Green World’ is very much the other, when considered in such company. The majority of it is instrumental, though not simply an overlap with his contemporary ambient work. The resulting listen is a glacial suite out of which songs periodically emerge. ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ is an especially beautiful piece of music, possessed of both a gorgeous chorus and an effervescent guitar solo from frequent Eno collaborator Robert Fripp. ‘The Big Ship’ perfectly represents the kaleidoscopic, evocative awe that radiates from the wordless portions of this record. While ‘Another Green World’ is a majestic soundtrack to many of life’s events, it is a fairly totemic creation in and of itself.
Making far more regimented use of the strategy cards while regularly constructing and dismantling layers of sound collages in the studio, Eno conjured the record out of thin air after initial sessions were scrapped. There is an abundance of melody despite the record’s unusual parameters, a logical extension, perhaps, of the artist’s lack of regard for lyrics. When the music can evoke emotion with such startling clarity, it doesn’t really need anything else. It is the transcendently high watermark of a career not light on triumphs and is reissued here with several other albums that run it close.
There would be, and still remains, much of note to follow, but the seventies output of Brian Eno cannot be done justice by mere nostalgic reflection. The care taken over these editions goes far beyond the now predictable deluxe edition, consumerist repackaging culture that is the death rattle of many corners of the music industry. It refocuses attention on sounds that defy categorisation, resist the pull of history and remain as staggering now as the time in which they were first put before the public’s ears.
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‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ 9/10
‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’ 8/10
‘Another Green World’ 10/10
‘Before And After Science’ 9/10
Words: Gareth James