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Brian Eno - Eno Box II: Vocals CD (album) cover


Brian Eno


Progressive Electronic

3.12 | 6 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars In 1993 Virgin/EG released a matching pair of 3-disc box sets devoted to the career thus far of Brian Eno: the first concentrating on his vast library of instrumental music, and this one celebrating his more song-based vocal work. Strictly speaking, the two anthologies shouldn't be regarded separately. Each is really a mirror image of the other: two parts of a single, 6-disc package charting Eno's evolution from idiosyncratic pseudo-glam pop star to world-renowned sonic adventurer (a journey, I should add, marked by a certain hirsute symmetry: his reputation growing as his hairline receded).

Of the two sets, the vocal box is more immediately accessible, if in the long run slightly less rewarding. Blame the fact that Eno all but stopped writing songs after 1977, concentrating instead on album-length minimalist soundscapes, art installations, and on his much in demand producer's skills.

But that would all come later. In the beginning of his post ROXY MUSIC solo career, Eno quickly established himself as one of the most unique talents at work in the wide open field of English Art Rock during the 1970s. In quick succession he produced a quartet of classic albums, each of them overflowing with an almost indecent surplus of narrative wit and musical whimsy.

The good news (especially for Enophiles who never replaced their scratchy vinyl) is that all four albums are included here, and almost in their entirety, filling the first two discs of this collection (with a few tracks reserved for the instrumental Eno Box 1). All right, so whoever compiled this set (actually Eno's buddy Declan Colgan) cheated a bit by including a lot of the proto-ambient instrumental experiments from 1975's "Another Green World", justifying their inclusion here by calling them songs "without words". And conspicuously missing are some of Eno's most quirky, quintessential sing-a-longs, co-written with Phil Manzanera for the Roxy guitarist's debut solo album, "Diamond Head" (1975): "Big Day", a tongue-in-cheek ode to the Peruvian chamber of commerce, and the lyrical Dada of "Miss Shapiro".

But some rare singles have been resuscitated, including 1974's "Seven Deadly Finns", a pre-New Wave comic rocker about a septet of horny sailors in their local bordello, plus an affectionate cover of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", with Eno crooning the "wimoweh" chorus and playing all the instruments himself. And disc three of the box includes, amongst a more scattershot sampling of other, more recent treasures, something almost amounting to a musical holy grail (of sorts): a half-dozen tracks from his never-released album "My Squelchy Life", recorded in the early 1990s but held from distribution for obscure legal and aesthetic reasons.

All the music has been painstakingly re-mastered, and each disc offers ample evidence of Eno's peculiar genius for writing offbeat, catchy pop songs. Just ignore the enclosed irritating essay by Paul Morley: twelve wasted pages of self-satisfied literary masturbation trying to capture the quintessence of a man whose music speaks well enough for itself.

One last word to an already overlong review. Perhaps the secret to Eno's ongoing success is his uncanny flair for attracting the best collaborators, a list of which reads like a roll call of superstar talent from England and elsewhere: guitarists like Phil Manzanera, Robert Fripp, Chris Spedding, and Fred Frith; bass players Bill Laswell, John Wetton, and Percy Jones (among others); drummers and percussionists including Simon King, Jaki Liebezeit (of Can), Robert Wyatt, and Phil Collins (back in the days when he actually aspired to a higher level of musicianship). And do I even need to mention David Byrne or John Cale?

That's not too shabby a guest list for an acknowledged non-musician who, according to pal Robert Fripp, still needs to mark his keyboard with masking tape to remind him what notes to play next.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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