BRIAN ENO DAVID BYRNE My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (EG)
Arriving in the slipstream of the earliest hip-hop cut and pastes, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is a vast musical, moral and political melting pot, plundering the theories of sampling and holding up a distorted, pixelated mirror up to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recorded round about the same time as Talking Heads similarly groundbreaking Remain In Light, it matches mutant funk rhythms (itd be a bit of a stretch to call them melodies) against at times brutally scissored radio broadcasts and Eastern musics. At its best, it still sounds shockingly fresh despite being over 25 years old, although its difficult to decide whether it does so because its innovations have been co-opted into popular culture or because it represented a brave but ultimately doomed musical cul-de-sac.
Those best bits would include Help Me Somebody, where the rhythm section of Chris Frantz and Busta Jones carves out something astonishingly funky beneath sheets of Frippian guitar, as the voice of Lebanese mountain singer Dunya Yusin, scammed from the album The Human Voice In The World Of Islam, skims and wheels above it. Help Me Somebody mashes up the sound of the rooks of Eglingham Hall, frenetic tribal percussion and a manic New Orleans preacher, who maintains a spectral presence centre stage. Perhaps the albums most bizarre, or chilling, moment, The Jezebel Spirit features an exorcism, the unidentified practitioner sounding like a bloodlust-crazed game show host.
After that, though, the wind kinda leaves its sails, with nothing quite as potent or memorable amidst the albums second half. As its generally the samples rather than the songs that make it so, their relative paucity results in a series of amiable but aimless squidgy ambient doodles. And for all its dazzling cleverness, its hard to determine what, if anything, the album actually says about its subjects, fostering the suspicion that its little more than flashy art school cleverness. For the good times, though, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is, in part, at least, a fascinating, if ultimately frustrating, work.
ENO MOEBIUS ROEDELIUS PLANK Begegnungen (Water)
Begegnungen is a slender (barely 35 minutes) compilation of Cluster-related material, they being the Moebius and Roedelius of the lineup, alongside Brian Eno and noted German producer Conny Plank. Being a Water release, this reissue is sumptuous, with the labels trademark glossy booklet toting a new essay examining the music.
Johanneslusts tightly meshing guitar and keyboard patterns sound like Philip Glass with soul, and although Two Oldtimers sounds stereotypically Eno-esque circa Another Green World the Professor played no part in its construction, although hes present on the synthetic heathaze shimmer of Schöne Hände. The Belldog is a delicious, appropriately chiming thing; the albums only song, its man-machine-morphing lyric is intoned with ironic blankness (or maybe blank irony) by Eno. Perhaps the most phenomenal inclusion here is Pitch Control, a 1983 collaboration between Cluster and Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier, which, with its nervous, itchy rhythm-as-melody construction, feverishly anticipates both Detroit techno and IDM.
Arguably the CD age deserves a more comprehensive survey of the ground Begegnungen covers (its particularly galling to discover that its sequel, Begegnungen II, would nestle snugly on the same disc), but for anyone contemplating dipping a toe into these balmy ambient waters it remains a delightfully tactile, low maintenance primer.
BRIAN ENO Ambient 1: Music For Airports (Virgin Music)
In which Professor Eno invents and defines the ambient genre, kickstarting a chain reaction that wouldnt flower fully until the post-acid house experimentation of the likes of Aphex Twin, The KLF and The Orb took it to the mainstream, where it would wither and die under the suffocating weight of innumerable The Best Chill Out Album In The World Ever!-type compilations., obliquely inspiring much of Classic FMs scheduling in the process. But this is not that, and Brian shouldnt shoulder the blame. As he says of his invention, It must be as ignorable as it is interesting, and on those terms Music For Airports is a success.
Outside of the albums learned sleevenotes (which read more like an abstract from a research paper than a description of the music to hand) and its title, the music floats free of association, untethered by context. The decision to title the pieces numerically based on their track and side numbers does for the music what Led Zeppelins bold, if hardly brave, omission of any identifying text from the cover of their fourth album did for its packaging. The contents of the four tracks are represented diagrammatically (in ways that Ill freely admit are beyond my understanding) on the back cover by series of lines, squares and circles.
1/1 is a 17-minute keyboard piece, co-composed and performed by Robert Wyatt. Its probably the most familiar track here, often pressed into truncated service on Eno compilations. It sounds almost like something from Michael Nymans soundtrack to The Piano played at 16 rpm. 2/1 is difficult to describe without referencing some of his other track titles Spirits Drifting and The Heavenly Music Corporation spring quickly to mind, not that it sounds like either of them but its certainly redolent of the images those phrases conjure up. A dreamy, angelic chorus hits what appear to be random notes in fact, theyre a series of single note tape loops timed such that they dont synchronise during the duration of the piece. 1/2 combines those voices with a piano melody that meanders like raindrops down a windowpane. 2/2 is perhaps the most typically Eno-esque tune here, tectonic plates of synthesised sound sliding over each other.
If Ambient 1: Music For Airports sounds a bit antiseptic or detached its a measure of how its followers have warmed the genres machine music aesthetic with samples and found sounds. Its a pioneering, groundbreaking work, of course, but one that progress has perhaps rendered more of an uneasy listen than its creator intended.
ENO Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (EG)
If the glam rock so sharp it could put someones eye out found on Enos excellent solo debut could be seen as a summation of his achievements within Roxy Music, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), titled after a Chinese opera, finds his music burrowing deeper inside itself, dense and dark, playful yet barbed. Of course, hed almost immediately reject this new direction next time around.
Like every other Eno album, it contains no big hits but theres a host of fave raves for the cognoscenti. For me the albums at its finest when trying to cram as much manic detail as possible into a conventional song structure: step forward Third Uncle, later covered by Bauhaus, and the sublime The True Wheel, whose lyric spawned the band names 801 and A Certain Ration. Twisting glam rock into intelligent new shapes, they dont seem entirely bereft of commercial potential given that Sparks singles were top ten material at the time. The Great Pretender closes with a locked groove loop of broiling electronics later light-fingered by Primal Scream on Screamadelica, and the title tracks lazy washes of calm prefigure the ambient adventures of Another Green World.
Much of Taking Tiger Mountain sounds like pop music from another planet. Sardonic and sinister but naggingly hummable with it, think Talking Heads meeting The Bonzo Dog Band, with occasional flashes of the wry little England observations that surfaced from time to time in Peter Gabriels lyrics, all hammered home by a gaggle of art-rockin talent that includes Phil Manzanera, Robert Wyatt, Andy Mackay and Phil Collins.
ENO Here Come The Warm Jets (Virgin Music)
Enos debut solo album starts at almost exactly the point that his work with Roxy Music left off. Imagine Virginia Plain with Bryan Ferrys suave influence crudely filed off and theres opening track Needles In The Camels Eye. Angular, droning glam rock, just slightly out of time and tune with itself, its quirky but not unfriendly. By the second track, The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch, Enos gleefully lampooning Ferrys nightclub croon, and the likes of Babys On Fire and Blank Frank (check that titles initials!) are heavily laden with abrasive lyrics. Cindy Tells Me sounds like gleefully perverted easy listening, lyrics like Left the Hotpoints to rust in the kitchenettes fabulously evocative of the albums moment in time.
Admittedly, there are moments when he rather over-eggs the pudding, such as the interminable Driving Me Backwards, but the bad taste is soon chased away by the verdant, foggy On Some Faraway Beach or the elegiac barbershop glam of Some Of Them Are Old, tongue wedged firmly in its rouged cheek. The album revs up to its astonishing close with the title track: wave upon wave of gloriously textured guitar noise and a performance from Enos scratch ensemble thats only a hairsbreadth away from tripping over itself. Speaking of which, as usual Brians attracted a roster of Titanic talent here, including many of his former Roxy colleagues, Chris Spedding and Robert Fripp.
Perhaps and its only a perhaps theres a lurking suspicion that Enos chasing himself albeit very cleverly in ever-decreasing circles here, covering and recovering the same ground to diminishing effect. Its not a sensation that Id associate with his later song albums, which sacrifice a little whimsy in favour of diversity. But its a rare album that still sounds futuristic in its mid-thirties, and for that Here Come The Warm Jets should be congratulated.
Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Cluster & Eno