BRIAN ENO'S LYRICS - AN OVERVIEW
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
In the song lyrics of his solo albums, Eno rarely indulges in pure phonetic poetry; rather, he treads a careful line between nonsense and sense, between connotation and denotation, between the explicit and the implicit. When, in 1985, he and John Cage were talking about their shared distaste for music that comes too heavily laden with intentions, Eno added, "I have the same feeling about lyrics. I just don't want to hear them most of the time. They always impose something that is so unmysterious compared to the sound of the music [that] they debase the music for me, in most cases." Eno has likened his lyric-writing process to automatic writing, the way you scribble until words start to appear. This disinclination to deal with the concreteness of verbal meanings played a large part in Eno's turn away from songwriting after having finished Before And After Science in 1977.
The process of writing song lyrics has always been peculiar and convoluted for Eno; to write them at all he [has] to trick himself into doing it. He [has felt] that writing lyrics is embarrassing because of the way words can expose the mind's thoughts and feelings. To write words, he [has] had to search for ways to throw the inner critical voice off guard:
With the lyric writing, I tend to begin by just shouting to a backing track, gradually building up a system of syllable rhythm, then getting the kind of phonetics that I want and gradually beginning to fill in words to the types of sounds my voice is making at this stage... It works from sound to words and from words to meaning, so it works quite the other way around from the way people normally think lyrics are written, I think.
Eno used this backwards technique to write the lyrics to the songs on all of his [early] albums. He would very infrequently, if ever, begin to work on a song with any concrete idea of what it would be about in the verbal sense. The lyrics are constructed as empirically as the music, as unselfconsciously as possible, with a What would happen if...? attitude. Eno has likened his lyric-writing process to automatic writing, the way you scribble until words start to appear. Frame of mind is all-important in this sort of creativity: while the negative critical judgment, or censor, which tends to inhibit the free play of musical and verbal association, must be turned off, positive judgments of other kinds must at some point be exercised to determine whether the words fit the music and have suitable musical colors in them selves, whether the words are indeed capable of evoking a rich enough fabric of meaning - whether, in short, the words are any good. In effect, Eno's lyric-writing technique represents a way of probing the unconscious mind, systematically mining it for images and meaning - meanings tied up with the images that, once found, may still be somewhat obscure. Eno is not interested in trying to strip off the layers of ambiguity; the final results of such a stripping might resemble the dream interpretations of psychoanalysis, and hence [...] have a pronounced embarrassing effect. Eno is content to give the listener the opportunity to be creative, through trying to work his or her own thoughts and emotions around the images presented. He said in 1981:
It's as if you've discovered a very dusty inscribed stone somewhere, and you're trying to scrape off all the muck to find out what's underneath it, and you keep coming up with one word here, another one there, and you're trying to imagine what might be in between those words. So in that sense I'm in the same position as the listener. I'm looking for the meaning of it as well. The only temptation to resist is the temptation to fall into a simple meaning. It's a tantalizing process, you know?
Excerpts from BRIAN ENO: HIS MUSIC AND THE VERTICAL COLOR OF SOUND by Eric Tamm
OVERVIEW | SINGLES, RARITIES & ODDS-&-ENDS | HERE COME THE WARM JETS | TAKING TIGER MOUNTAIN | ANOTHER GREEN WORLD
BEFORE AND AFTER SCIENCE | AFTER THE HEAT | MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS | WRONG WAY UP | MY SQUELCHY LIFE
NERVE NET | ANOTHER DAY ON EARTH | EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS WILL HAPPEN TODAY
DRUMS BETWEEN THE BELLS | PANIC OF LOOKING