Tentative Review #131

Brian Eno
Another Green World

(released 1975)


Track:Rating:
1. Sky Saw *****
2. Over Fire Island *****
3. St. Elmo's Fire *****
4. In Dark Trees ****1/2
5. The Big Ship *****
6. I'll Come Running ***
7. Another Green World ****
8. Sombre Reptiles *****
9. Little Fishes ***
10.Golden Hours ****1/2
11.Becalmed ****1/2
12.Zawinul/Lava *****
13.Everything Merges With The Night ****1/2
14.Spirits Drifting ****1/2

Personnel:

Credits:



Comments:

Another Green World is frequently regarded as the apex of Brian Eno's career. A transitional work between his early "proto-new wave" recordings and later ambient fare, this album has a level of internal coherence unseen in his other "song-based" works. While some fans of his first two solo albums may have lamented the lack of humour on AGW, the album makes perfect sense as a bridge to his later endeavours. The first Fripp & Eno album had proven his credibility as something more than a garish art/glam type, and Taking Tiger Mountain (1974) showed some movement away from the novelty-rock of Here Come The Warm Jets (1973), his solo debut. Another Green World took this process to its next logical step.

Much has been made of Eno's dissatisfaction with the limits of the traditional Euro-American pop/rock scene during this time period; while this may seem in retrospect like an overly convenient justification for his subsequent career moves, there is little question that his musical scope was expanding. The ambient vignettes on AGW reveal an interest in the potential functions of music beyond the 1970s rock scene from which Eno improbably emerged -- his comments on the "non-western" nature of such ambient music may not capture all of its subtleties, but neither is this a totally inaccurate assessment. Moreover, the more conventional "songs" on this release also benefit (with one exception) by an integration with Eno's sonic experimentations.

The difficulties of comparing AGW with Eno's post-1977 output make comments as to the "greatest album of his career" somewhat difficult -- nevertheless, this is the best of his four "rock-oriented, in a sense" albums of the mid-1970s. Progressive fans, in particular, should find it a suitable lead-in to BE's career.

The album begins with "Sky Saw", a work which combines "cool" 1970s jazz-fusion (featuring the Jones/Collins rhythm section, soon to be featured in Brand X) with abrasive sonic treatments (a buzz-tone guitar effect performs the titular role). Eno's lyrics -- especially the infamous "All words lose their meaning" line -- have long been taken as a justification of his subsequent tendencies to instrumental work; this assessment is probably valid. A violin effect from Cale graces the closing section of the track. Each part fits together perfectly, setting the general sensibility for the rest of the album.

"Over Fire Island" is a briefer work, once again spotlighting the Jones/Collins rhythm section (Phil's ability to tap out a steady beat need never be in question). Eno provides a prototype of the melody which be featured more strongly in the next track, with some "treatments" making their way into the mix as well.

This is followed by "St. Elmo's Fire", perhaps the greatest "song" of Eno's career. A telegraphic beat (soon switching to piano) provides a unique lead-in to the number, which tells of a signal-transmission's journey from populated areas to desert lands (and in the process manages to tie-in a partnership motif without sounding remotely hackneyed or cliched -- an impressive feat, to say the least). The chorus is one of the best "hooks" of Eno's career. The primary feature of the song, however, is Robert Fripp's treated guitar solo at the conclusion of the track, which ranks with the best of his career.

The listener is then led through two more explicitly ambient numbers. "In Dark Trees" unfolds a hypnotic rhythm/melody over a metronomic beat, creating a triumph of ambience typical of his later endeavours. Even better than this, however, is "The Big Ship". Appropriately beginning with a signal emerging (as if from a distant source), this track features a stunningly well-arranged development of guitar and keyboard effects. "TBS" might easily be judged as the best ambient track on the release.

Several explanations have been given to justify the subsequent track, "I'll Come Running (To Tie Your Shoe)". Defenders of this number frequently note the deliberate juxtaposition of a "light" pop song into the larger context of the album, arguing for its ironic/postmodern value as such. This may be so, but judged individually it still appears as the weakest track on the album (I might have used the term "cocktail" instead of "cabaret" ...), and as superfluous to the development of the work (perhaps "Golden Hours" might have worked in its place). As pop numbers go, this work is well-crafted but ultimately not very significant; Fripp's solo is decent enough, but (as per its description in the liner notes) clearly hindered by the constraints of the song. The vocal harmonies at the end have some merit, but not enough to justify this curious diversion to the satisfaction of this reviewer.

The album's progress continues anew with "Another Green World", a highly ambient feature which gradually emerges from an unformed musical background. The "Desert-Guitar" is a highlight of the work. This brief track is then followed by "Sombre Reptiles", one of Eno's better moments of sound-painting (the reptilian creatures being described by a combination of "noble" guitar lines and a vibrant percussive section -- it would be difficult to imagine a more artful use of synthesized percussion, really). This is followed by "Little Fishes", a vaguely Cageian prepared piano work which fits in the overall flow of the album, but is of limited independent merit.

Contrary to one might suppose of Eno's mindset in 1975, "Golden Hours" does not refer to obscene activities, but rather returns the album (briefly) to a song-based format through the lament of an isolated author (typewriters may be heard in the background). This is one of Eno's more evocative vocal performances, with impressive harmonies emerging at the start of some later verses. Fripp's guitar performance seems strangely akin to "Suite No. 1" (from the Giles, Giles & Fripp release); Cale's viola conclusion merits attention as well.

Two further ambient instrumentals then appear (the album by this point having shifted into an extremely tranquil mode). "Becalmed" is an extremely sparse and ephemeral track, which eventually develops into some measure of fullness; "Zawinul/Lava" repeats/modifies a simple piano line over minimal accompaniment from Rudolph, Jones and Collins [could this be a reference to "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy", a piece that Zawinul played while in Cannonball Adderley's band]. Both works fits extremely well in the course of the album's development.

The final vocal track on the album is "Everything Merges With The Night", a track which somehow manages to describe the romantic and social tensions of a Chilean Communist following the deposition of Salvador Allende's government(1). The track itself is strongly atmospheric, wistful without losing its substance entirely. The poetry of the final verse has a descriptive quality typical of traditional "eastern" verse; it is unlikely that this was accidental. The album concludes with "Spirits Drifting", an entirely atmospheric piece dominated by extremely "ghostly" keyboards (though with some bass accompaniment). Having begun with tension and complexity, the album resolves in absolute simplicity.

This album is strongly recommended to all progressive fans, and any interested in Brian Eno's music.

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(1) This will probably require an explanation for some readers. The key to understanding this song is the line "Santiago/Under the volcano/Floats like a cushion on the sea/But I can never sleep here/Everything ponders in the night". Santiago is the capital of Chile, is a coastal city suspended above sea level, and borders a mountain range (which isn't quite the same as a volcano, I suppose, but some leeway can be given here). The previous verse contains the line "Seems like I can't remember/Longer than last September". The song may very well have been written in (or at least set in) 1974. Allende's government was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet on Sept. 11, 1973.

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The Christopher Currie

(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 6 Jan 1999)


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