Brian Eno’s music is intuitive and bears all the blue-eyed intellect of its creator. It’s meant for reflection, sometimes wearing a beret, or sometimes strutting, donning blue eyeshadow and feathers, much as Eno’s stage alter ego did in 1972. The music can rock, dissect, and sometimes ascribe to the concept album art-rock paradigm while mostly managing to circumvent the usual attending grandiosity or pomposity. But the music is always beautiful, or thought-provoking, and often both.
Eno’s new album, The Ship, was inspired by the dual disasters of World War I and the Titanic. Thematically, he links together these dual sinking ships — whether plights of principle or luxury vessels — as examples of hubris.
He recently told Uncut that he’d noticed “a pattern that keeps repeating the connection between power and vulnerability — or power and paranoia, shall we say. The Titanic and the First World War both represent a point at which empires had reached a level of hubris and arrogance and confidence that made them think that they could do anything and they would succeed at it…. They all thought they were unsinkable, and they sank.”
The album is organized as a meandering ambient lullaby ending with an anachronistic nod to The Velvet Underground that was recorded over a decade ago. Its first eponymous track is over 21 minutes long, while the next, “Fickle Sun (i)” clocks in around 18 minutes, followed by “Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour is Thin,” a comparably meager two-something minutes long. Finally, “Fickle Sun (iii) I’m Set Free” is a nod to VU’s original “I’m Set Free” Eno originally recorded more than 12 years ago.
The first installment of the “Fickle Sun” triad is a kind of transcendental emergence into ambience that culminates with a curious assortment of snatches of images manufactured by a sort of free-association ghost in the machine poet, as the verses were computer-generated by text fed to Markov Chain Generator software. These text selections, variously, include accounts of Titanic sinking by survivors in lifeboats, pornographic WWI soldier songs, anti-hacking warnings, and other music by Eno.
Eno’s prolific oeuvre spans 45 years. These selections of the countless albums Eno created as solo artist, collaborator or producer chronicle his most seminal and cult works, regardless of commercial success. This somewhat cursory primer is intended to promote further investigation into Eno’s vast body of work, and is in no way exhaustive.
The first Roxy Music album finds the British glam rockers injecting the stale blues rock of the era with an eyeliner-rimmed rawness neatly paired with progressive rock underpinnings of Phil Manzanera’s wailing guitar. Although Eno didn’t have a musical background per se, he quickly became a multi-instrumentalist and lent an experimental edge via synthesizer and tape effects.
While less accessible than Roxy Music’s first album, For Your Pleasure landed neatly at the top of the British charts. Americans, however, were lost: Rolling Stone’s Paul Gambaccini wrote, “the bulk of For Your Pleasure is either above us, beneath us, or on another plane altogether.”
Arguably Eno’s most seminal and timeless work in the rock genre was conceived directly after Eno’s departure from Roxy Music (with band alumni Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay). The album was painfully simple. Like artists such as T-Rex, whoseElectric Warrior album came out two years prior, the music bears spacious simplicity. Blank space was the goal, he told Eric Tamm inBrian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound. Songs such as “Driving Me Backwards” revel in three-chord simplicity: “I enjoy working with simple structures such as these, for they are transparent — comparable to a piece of graph paper and its grids. The grid serves as the reference point for the important information — the graph line itself.”
A concept album inspired by a Chinese book of postcards depicting an opera: pure art rock.
Welsh experimental musician John Cale’s debut album bears similarities to Roxy Music and other Eno albums with its shimmering and sturdy rock. Phil Manzanera’s guitar solos in “Gun” rival his epic solo in “Baby’s on Fire” from Here Come the Warm Jets.
Released on Eno’s own experimental imprint, Obscure Records, Discreet Music was originally created for Robert Fripp live shows.
Always prolific, Eno also released this second album in 1975. Its single, “The Big Ship,” recently resurfaced in the cult independent filmThe End of the Tour, a retrospective posthumous film about author David Foster Wallace as told byDavid Lipsky.
Eno contributed to the superlative solo album of Roxy Music’s legendary guitarist as a multi-instrumentalist, singing and playing rhythm guitar, keys and drums.
To kick off another wholly prolific year, this album explores cagey drum sequences, African polyrhythms and layered sounds. It marries the two divergent paths Eno’s music traverses — insular ambience and raucous rock, whether of the polyrhythmic or painfully simple variety.
The Ultravox album was slammed upon its release as contrived, intellectual art-rock offered up by washed-out, synth-loving Brits with shiny new clothes. The band’s obsession with the fading electro-pop genre in 1977 seemed antiquated at a time when punk rock’s trajectory was more defiantly vocal. Yet the album has stood the test of time when recast in the context of more recent no wave and electro pop movements.
Low – balanced A-side rock with B-side instrumentals. Producer Tony Visconti captured Bowie’s humanity in the wake of his recent departure from Los Angeles and itshedonistic claims. Bowietermed Los Angeles “the most vile piss-pot in the world,” while Berlin was a “Spartan antidote” locale in where he could recover from drug-fueled psychosis and make music.
The album features Eno on synth, keys and guitar, while the loose guitar stylings of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp lend rawness to Visconti’s impeccable production.
Eno curated the primer on this late 1970s no wave compilation. The album featuredTeenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA, Mars, and the Contortions.
While Eno ventured into the experimental ambient genre prior to Ambient 1: Music for Airports, the album cemented — no, levitated — his relationship with the genre. Eno wasn’t courting Billboard charts with this album, but instead wanted the music (as he wrote in the liner notes) to “accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”
Eno’s studio was located in Berlin when Devo emerged from their art school beginnings in gritty and industrial Akron, Ohio, to record their first album. David Bowie initially connected the band with Eno. According to unpublished notes gathered from Gerald Casale during aFlavorwireinterview, Devo spent about $10,000 (in 1978 dollars) to ship their custom Hammond organ to Eno’s recording studio in Germany. The producer’s approach to derive beauty from Devo’s music by employingOblique Strategies — a deck of cards developed by Eno with various esoteric messages meant to help artists overcome creative obstacles — was largely squandered. Eno wanted the music to be beautiful, while Devo keyboardist Casale and vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh had a very formulaic, calculated and stoic approach to their music. Regardless, cult Devo-tees regard Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! as the band’s best work.
A transitional, and perhaps difficult album for Talking Heads, the author Jonathan Lethem examines the album in minute detail on theFear of Music near-dissertation in the 33 1/3 series.
While it’s often an overlooked album in Bowie’s oeuvre, Lodger is worth exploring, if only for the moonscape terrain it uncovers in the artist’s post-Ziggy Stardust career trajectory.
In what was the largest commercial flop for Talking Heads, Remain in the Light fused pulsing guitar with African drums and time signatures that were difficult to digest in the bloated Pepto Bismol corpus of popular music in 1980. David Byrne toldRolling Stone that critical consensus was that the album was “too black for white radio and too white for black radio.” Byrne and Eno, who later had a falling out in the studio, studied African voodoo and percussion before applying it in the studio — and unwittingly derived a large hit, “Once in a Lifetime.” Byrne and Eno later reunited and collaborated on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was recorded concurrently with the Remain in the Light album, for which Eno was a contributor. And as Richard Wells wrote in Creem in 1981, “it shares many of the concerns of that album — African polyrhythms, modern funk melodies and structures, exotic non-funk melodies, and repetition (of course).” Yet there is a distinct difference in that the album has no original lyrics, but relies on samples from obscure sources — variously, a Lebanese singer, chanting Algerian Muslims, talk show host and an exorcist.
Eno and Daniel Lanois collaborated on The Joshua Tree for what has been widely regarded as U2’s best studio album, uncovering the Irish band’s love-hate relationship with the United States.
Stalwart synthesizer pioneer Laurie Anderson worked with Eno on the Bright Red album. The album is primarily ambient, with experimental soundscapes and eerie spoken-word lyrics thematically linking concepts of innocence with experience and entrance with departure.
Eno told Uncut that he used a software program, Verbasizer, to yield unexpected results while producing Bowie’s 1995 album, Outside. He explained, “A lot of the projects I enjoy — and David enjoyed — were about trying to put yourself somewhere you wouldn’t slide into intuitively, that you wouldn’t comfortably reach. Then just try to see what it’s like. What happens if I’m there? What does that mean to be in that place? What David was doing was a kind of cut-up thing, like Burroughs, Brion Gysin and so on used to do. See? We all come out of experimental art.”
When Grace Jones returned from a 20-year hiatus to record the dubby, reggae-influenced Hurricane, she employed her usual cast of renegade talent musicians, with a few new contributors: production via Eno, Adam Green on guitar, Bob Ludwig, and Tricky.
An odd genre grab-bag hodge-podge of folk, key-heavy electronica and…country, the lukewarm collaboration between Eno and Byrne is something of a head-scratcher, although the straddling of eras and genres by the stalwart musicians probably lends to the apparent derivative nature of the album and flotsam and jetsam of warm guitars on “Everything That Happens.”
Eno co-produced this album with Underworld producer Karl Hyde. While the album explores divergent territories in genre and instrumentation, it was largely met with criticism as an overindulgent “collection of leftovers.“