INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Melody Maker OCTOBER 26, 1974 - by Allan Jones
ENO: ON TOP OF TIGER MOUNTAIN
When rock makes its next move and edges out of its current general state of confusion, the impetus which charges that move is unlikely to derive from a single source of energy. What is becoming evident, however, is a sense of shared responsibility, and the emergence of a group of individuals whose intelligence and background separates them from the main body of rock. One hesitates to impose upon them a collective identity, but check out the credits on your copy of June 1 for further details. There's already some evidence in two of this year's most rewarding albums - Fear and Rock Bottom - to suggest that the new direction, as yet undefined, will come from this direction. And if initial impressions are enough on which to build an opinion, those two albums are about to be joined by a third, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). Which brings us, by a rather long route, to Brian Eno.
Tiger Mountain is Eno's third album since the celebrated split from Roxy, and in the context of this argument it might well prove as important a contribution as either John Cale's or Robert Wyatt's. The hesitancy of Warm Jets has been replaced by confidence found in working with people like Wyatt, Cale and Nico, who have been more than sympathetic to Eno's concepts and ideas. The influence of Cale especially pervades the album. Tracks like China My China and Back In Judy's Jungle reveal the extent to which Eno's talents have developed. China, specifically, is an outstanding example of Eno's ability to fuse the most separate influences into a coherent whole (it's like Syd Barrett sings John Cale). To define its relationship with Warm Jets one could point to development contained within three songs on that album: Baby's On Fire, Driving Me Backwards and Dead Finks Don't Talk.
As Eno explains: "Of the ideas on that album, one can say that those were new ideas. They are if you like unique to me - or if not unique, then special to me.
"Like Baby's On Fire was written around two notes and that's interesting to me. It's very economical and that interests me at the moment when song structures are so complex in general, that one can write what I think are interesting songs without that kind of complexity. I mean I don't have to rely on the complexity of the structure for the interest of the songs. I can listen to those three songs because there is still a mystery about them for me. Whereas other things on that album, I like but they are completely obvious to me, and it doesn't seem to matter that I did them, they could have been done by somebody else, and that's not such a good feeling actually. I mean one likes to think that you do what you are best at and that there's a certain area that I can do possibly better than anyone else."
The very construction of the album, at least in terms of production and integration of ideas, reveals Eno's increasingly uncompromising, if not eccentric attitude to the standard procedure of recording. To use a specific example of the way in which he was able to transcend and manipulate those basic traditions, there was a strategy he used which involved a set of cards upon which he had written messages to himself, some technical details, others purely conceptual, and others just cryptic notes. "There are maybe sixty-four cards, whenever I was stuck for a decision in the studios I'd simply refer to these cards whatever card I picked up I would act on. I wouldn't choose one lightly, because the point was I had to observe it, and what it did was to force me to try something out even if it had no chance of working. I'd found that working in studios before you can become so insular and narrow in your focus that you can forget all the great ideas you have outside the studio situation. Often I'd find that I'd get into the studios and it was as if I'd forgotten all the things I wanted to do and just carry on working because the equipment was already set up in a certain way. Studios are usually set up as a means of reproducing an idea which is already set. Now I'm interested in the studio as a way of creating something new, and not at all interested in the distinctions between live and studio because as far as I'm concerned there is just no comparison, they're two entirely different activities. So I used the cards as a way of jolting myself back into thinking about what I was doing."
The unexpected is a quality that runs through the album, from the sleeve by Peter Schmidt to the surprising force of Eno's performance. Again it's the a matter of confidence and the sympathetic co-operation of the musicians, from Robert Wyatt, Phil Manzanera (who these days seems to reserve his most crucial contributions and ideas for his work with people like Eno and Cale) through to Brian Turrington of The Winkies who supplies bass and some beautiful piano on the title track and Fred Smith on drums.
Lyrically, the album derives its strength from Cale's (and again maybe Barrett's) mysterious ambiguity. "I've developed new systems of writing lyrics. One of which is panic. I'd just start writing ideas, just from phonetics and then in the studio I'd have to finalise them. Practically all the lyrics were written in about fifteen minutes but they are based on suspicions which existed for some time. But the thing about writing fast is that you don't guard yourself. Because the problem with writing lyrics is that one can become very self-conscious, and when one sees something written down it can look very fixed and over-specific. And this is why I don't have the lyrics printed on the sleeve. As far as I'm concerned my lyrics don't exist as some kind of poetry in their own right, but as part of the music. So it's no more relevant to print the lyrics than it is to score the top line that the guitar is playing."
With this album Eno has reached the same stage as Roxy, and he's still pretty synonymous with that band since his music reflects many of their initial ideas which have since been overlooked. But there's still a feeling of suspicion, almost, toward his actual standing as a musician.
"That's true and if I'd have thought of the critics when I was doing this album I would probably have thrown it out completely. But I know it's good. I have no doubt it's a much better album, because I was able to use far more of the ideas that are important to me. Obviously my role in rock music is not to come up with new musical ideas in any strict sense. It's to come on with new concepts about how you might generate music. It's always time to question what has become standard and established. I figure that in a way, my contribution, if it's received, it will be on a more on a theoretical basis, about suggesting greater freedom in the way people approach music. I'll be very interested in that context to see how this album is received. It's impossible to predict, but it will be interesting."