Brian Eno: His best albums revisited
With four of Brian Eno’s seminal 1970s solo albums reissued on vinyl earlier this year, Prog speaks to Phil Manzanera, Robert Wyatt, Percy Jones and Rhett Davies to discuss his legacy
"Brian likes to be busy – he likes getting stuff done,” observes Robert Wyatt of the man he first encountered in the summer of 1972, when Eno added ominous synthesiser drones to the Matching Mole’s Little Red Record album. Wyatt, of course, playfully understates the frequency and extent of Eno’s compulsive creativity.
After jousting egos with Bryan Ferry one time too many, Eno – the man who famously described himself as a ‘non-musician’ – quit Roxy Music in 1973 and went on to release Here Come The Warm Jets (1974), Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974), Another Green World (1975) and Before And After Science (1977).
The albums, recently reissued on half-speed mastered vinyl format, remain the blueprints for a revolution, an explosion of ideas whose sonic and conceptual shrapnel have studded the fabric of popular culture to such a degree that to listen to them today is akin to being given a preview of what much of rest of the 20th century would look and sound like. Had Eno done nothing else with his time but these four records, his place in the pantheon of genuinely innovative artists would be secure.
Yet what makes this period and these records all the more amazing is that they happened while he was embarking on a string of groundbreaking collaborations that would in time take his name around the world, earning his spurs as a distinctive producer, founding the visionary Obscure Records label, and coining the name ‘ambient’, as well as producing the cornerstone works of this whole new genre of music.
Witty and charismatic, he was irresistible to the music press, applying as much arty erudition as eyeliner during the interviews and photoshoots of the times. Likely to be holding forth on anything from John Cage to pubic hair, he was Eno the dilettante, the bon viveur, the chancer who danced to a different tune, one that took in bitchy pop and spiky rock. He was all glam, sham and thank you, ma’am when it came to appreciating his many fans.
His songs and subjects conjured exotic rhymes. He was the boffin who, with a sweep of a stagey mock limp wrist, set about subdividing time into colliding particles to formulate a big bang all his own.
Bedecked in feathers, fur and androgynous allure, he was an unlikely conduit between the oblique space amid avant-garde theory and rock practice, who thought nothing of pairing Bo Diddley with Bob Fripp.