For all of his influence and discreet ubiquity, I haven’t heard much about Brian Eno lately. Not that he’s the kind of an artist who aims to make headlines, but I could do with some better keeping up. It seems like he’s still all about composing otherworldly soundscapes. As usual, those soundscapes are both purposefully boring and subtly evocative. That is, they do evoke an distinct imaginative atmosphere. It could be the soundtrack to the kind of perversely drawn-out art movie that hardly anyone makes anymore, for example, the kind where static wide-lens shots of gently rustling greenery drag on for minutes at a time, and everyone is silently consumed with unspecified but very terrible sorrows. Eno draws the listener into this imaginative plane, and that plane is – plot twist! – extremely boring. Which is exactly Eno’s plan, his longtime devious hobby of creating things of great beauty that are impossible to pay any kind of sustained attention to.
Before there was Moby, there was Eno. That is obvious. Before there were most things, there was Eno. MGMT even wrote a song about it. Brian Eno is the slow, inexorable trickle-down effect of personal weirdness bleeding influence into everything around it until it’s come to subtly dominate huge swaths of popular culture. This is why you have half-ambient car commercial pop music as its own genre now. This is why we have a lot of the pop trends that we have, but as always, the original is better and more interesting.
This song is also by Brian Eno. It’s a slight bit strange that Eno wrote two songs with the same title with different collaborators, but I’ll take it. They’re markedly different songs. The last one was more David Byrne than Eno. This one is from Eno and John Cale’s Wrong Way Up, and it’s more Eno than Cale. In fact it’s the only song on that record credited only to Eno. Eno’s solo vocal songs have become increasingly rare since the seventies, and that’s a shame; they’re a lot more enjoyable than ambient digital soundscapes. So this makes this one a particular favorite of mine. It’s so soothing.
Brian Eno and Rick Holland bring two of my favorite things together; ambient soundscapes and cryptic whispering voices. Eno provides the soundscapes, Holland provides the poetry, non-famous civilians provide the whisperings. I highly recommend Drums Between the Bells as one of the great Eno collaboration albums. Since he’s apparently long ago given up making interesting things on his own, but still brings the weird when an inspiring collaborator comes along.
This is my kind of lullaby. It’s a little creepy and a little soothing. Brian Eno does as Brian Eno does. Eno likes to venture into the surreal, as he does on this record quite a lot. Eno’s talent for atmosphere eventually became his guiding principle, but remember that at this point he was still teasing out his aesthetic. Call it the sound of a young genius throwing everything at the wall. I would say that anything Eno throws sticks, but also everything Eno throws is not for everybody.
My, my, my… Brian Eno continues to surprise even if you think you’ve figured out his methods. We’ve all heard by now of his oblique strategies; starter packs are available for purchase. Throwing out sounds, ideas and words at random then finding some means of binding them together has served Eno and his collaborators very well. I always presumed that this particular title was a result of just such witchery. There’s no cohesion to those words being together. But, nope, Eno took inspiration from a true tale of a young man named William Underwood – a Negro in the parlance of his time – from a place called Paw Paw, MI who claimed to possess pyrokinetic powers. Being the 1800’s, of course, science had no means to either disprove or explain those claims, but the man was documented by observes breathing fire (though not, to my knowledge, barbecuing kittens.) The nineteenth century was full of such delightfully credulous tales of pseudo scientific quakery, and more of them should be revived in pop culture. The weight of real context lends a whole new meaning to a self-consciously flippant song; suddenly there’s a story that you really want to know more of. This could be the seed of the next AHS.
And now, two minutes of ambiance. If you’re so inclined, Brian Eno has hours’ worth of ambient music to nod off to, but I think a few minutes is enough. On Another Green World, Eno transitioned from traditional – if weird – pop based song structures towards the aural wallpaper concept he would thoroughly pioneer over the next few years. The great thing about the instrumental parts here is that they are still recognizably self-contained songs. They’re fun to listen to, whereas the point of the later discreet ambient music for bus stops is that you can’t really listen to it at all. Fire Island, for whatever it’s worth, is a strip of land off the coast of Long Island that has been known since the 1970’s as a vacation destination for the gay community. So this may well be Brian Eno’s big rainbow-flag moment, presented in a characteristically oblique manner.