This week saw the vinyl reissue of the first four solo albums of Brian Eno, sometimes referred to as his “rock albums.”
Historically speaking, prior to these releases he was the keyboardist for Roxy Music and after them he became the innovator of ambient music and pioneer producer of artists like U2. But these four remarkable albums have proven timeless, yet perpetually odd and out of place, influencing everything from electronic music to post-punk in the decades that followed. Particularly striking is Eno’s 1974 debut, “Here Come the Warm Jets.”
In 1974 the British music scene had just absorbed the glam rock juggernaut that was David Bowie. Along with Bowie, Roxy Music was part of a more avant-garde strain of the genre that favored musical genre experimentation coupled with image manipulation. When Eno went solo, he took his love of experimentation, rock and roll and doo-wop music with him. All of these influences can be heard in his debut as the self-professed “non-musician” created a landmark avant-pop album.
The opening track “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” proves that Eno was still not afraid of rocking out after leaving his previous band. The distorted, minimalist riff chugs along and powers an underrated track that predates punk by at least two years.
Throughout the album, Eno the non-musician’s disposition of creating order from random chaos shines through. Using a technique that would become legendary, Eno would write lyrics after mouthing random vowel and consonant sounds over music on a tape recorder, then interpret them into readable words.
Songs like “Cindy Tells Me” and “On Some Faraway Beach” show Eno’s natural inclination for melody, while the background soundscapes display his growing love of generative ambient music, something that would fully flower a few years later on 1978’s “Music for Airports.”
After all is said and done however, Eno’s debut album sounds very much a product of the glam era. While it shares the experimental facets of the albums that followed, the songs seem to be the natural progression from the already offbeat work of Roxy Music. The over-enunciated vocals, the avant-garde guitar work of Robert Fripp, coupled with the throwaway throwbacks to the 1950’s with the Bo Diddley beat of “Blank Frank” are not dissimilar to other glam artists of the time.
The centerpiece of the album is without a doubt the track “Baby’s On Fire,” a song that would inform the unconventional music and unabashedly absurd lyrics of the underground music for the rest of the decade.
Eno’s gleeful snarling leads up to a terrifying Fripp guitar solo, creating a menace that is at once inaccessible, but compelling.
Among the other Eno reissues released this week, 1975’s “Another Green World” is arguably the most musically adventurous and as an album thematically sound, consolidating experimental qualities with an accessible song-based approach. However, “Here Come the Warm Jets” sets the stage for not only an extraordinary musical career to come, but influenced much of the music for the remainder of the 1970’s and beyond.