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Brian Eno - Before And After Science CD (album) cover


Brian Eno


Progressive Electronic

3.80 | 211 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars This album, along with Peter Gabriel III, changed my music-listening life. Before purchasing and assimilating these albums, my music pallete was still almost exclusively limited to 60's and 70's classic rock and British art-rock/prog rock, with pretty much the only exceptions being late-period albums by groups whose prime output fell into one of those two categories. I had an extreme suspicion of and bias against any music that (a) made extensive use of what I considered "artificial" instrumentation, and (b) used the recording studio as an advanced tool on par in importance with any "real" instruments that might have come into play (believe it or not, it was only after hearing these albums that my appreciation of Sgt. Pepper rose to where it is today; at the time I would have considered it a high ****, tops). After getting into these albums, though, I soon discovered a heavy interest in late 70's New Wave bands, which in turn led to an appreciation of much more 80's music than I'd ever thought I could enjoy, as well as to beginning to appreciate the best aspects of punk, post-punk and other big genres of the 80's and onward. Not only that, but my enjoyment of these also had a large impact on me in terms of helping my appreciation of kinds of 60's and 70's music that I had largely ignored to that point; it is no coincidence, for instance, that my major appreciation of both the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan began after I got into these two albums.

Funnily enough, while I consider this the best of Eno's output (both from his own solo career and from his many many side collaborations), it's also one of the least overtly revolutionary albums he'd do in the 70's (when he was breaking barriers left and right). Side A consists of four up-tempo pop songs that kinda seem like more refined versions of some songs on Tiger Mountain (as well as a short eerie instrumental), and side B consists of four mid-tempo (and slower) folk-pop ballads heavily crossed with some ambient trappings (as well as one full-blown ambient instrumental). Now, I can see where that would put a lot of people off to the album right away; one could very easily shrug one's shoulders after giving this a listen and say something like, "Well, it's ok, but he's not really doing anything radically different from what he's done before." By Eno's standards of breaking ground, I can definitely concede this point; however, by normal standards, these songs (to my ears) only match his previous work in the broadest of categorical strokes. He's not really borrowing any of his previous textures (there's some similarity to his concurrent work on Low and "Heroes", but even then I think it's kinda overstated), and he's definitely not borrowing any of his previous melodies; what more need be demanded?

Ultimately, eight of these ten tracks (ie all except for the instrumentals, which are still terrific) are a small world unto themselves, and what's more is that, against heavily stacked odds, this collection of songs really works as an album, despite the huge disparity between the approaches of sides A and B (why this happens I'll get to later). Side A is cited as disappointing by various reviewers whose opinions I respect, but I can't really understand how or why that should be the case. The opening "No One Receiving" is a little less classic than the other songs on here, and is definitely a less grabbing opener than, say, "Needle in the Camel's Eye," but dismissing it solely as a throwaway attempt at a funk groove just blows my mind. The harsh deconstructionism of the album (the big trick of the entire album is taking fully arranged recordings of the tracks and cutting out layers of the arrangements in unpredictable ways, leading to a sound where basically every instrument has a well-defined 'kick' to it) is in full bloom on this track, and the hypnotic off-kilter drum machine patterns (Phil Collins) mix with the tight rhythm guitar (Paul Rudolph) and double basslines (Rudolph, Percy Jones) in a controlled frenzy that perfectly fits with Eno's (once again) amazing vocal melody and all the nervous guitar plinging and synth grooving he throws in.

"Backwater" is even better, though, with Eno's rhythmic piano gelling with the robotic (in a good way) drums of Jaki Liebezeit (that's right, the Can dude) into the perfect foundation for one of the most brilliantly goofy vocal melodies I've heard in some time. And the lyrics, holy cow; these are some impressive absurdities right here. "There was a senator from Ecuador who talked about a meteor that crashed on a hill in the south of Peru, and was found by a conquistador who took it to the emperor, and he passed it on to a Turkish guru. His daughter was slated for becoming divine. They all taught her, they taught her how to split and define. But if you study the logistics and heuristics of the mystics you will find that their minds rarely move in a line. So, it's much more realistic to abandon such ballistics and resign to be trapped on a leaf in the vine." If I were to ever write an absurdist verse of lyrics, I'd kill to come up with something even a hundredth as inspired as that.

Lessee, then there's "Kurt's Rejoinder," a speedy, rhythmically jerky attack of Dave Mattacks on drums, Percy Jones once more on bass (playing a bunch of killer lines), samples of one Kurt Schwitters blabbering who knows what splattered all over the place, and Brian quickly singing out more of his own brand of insane, paranoid lyrics ("Celebrate the loss of one and all all all and separate the torso from the spine. Burger Bender bouncing like a ball, ball, ball so Burger Bender bargain blender shine."). It's meaningless, but the way he mixes rhyhmes and bizarre alliterations in this track is something that really sucks me in here, and the melody, oh the melody.

A brief respite comes in the brief "Energy Fools the Magician," a two-minute interaction of some crazy basslines (the "Energy") with Eno's synths (the "Magician," I suppose) that sounds just as eerie as one would hope a piece with such a title would sound. And then we hit the climax/conclusion of the first side, one of the greatest songs Eno would ever do in his life; the amazing, phased-to-oblivion rhythmic pounding piano-boogie "rocker" "King's Lead Hat." Cripes, it has Fripp and Manzanera playing on it; how could such a confluence occur on a Brian Eno album without resulting in a rhythmic dream come true? And man, to have this rhythm combined with these dissonant piano poundings combined with this vocal delivery ("Time and motion, time and tide; all I know and all I have is time and time and tide is on my side!") is to create one of the greatest New Wave experiences I could ever imagine in a million years. If, after downloading this song and giving it a couple of listens, you're not totally convinced of the need to get this album (like I was), then you shouldn't go further; Eno is simply not for you.

So that's the first side. The second side, for the most part, is completely different; it's slow, it's moody, and it's sooooo atmospheric that it will be tempting to simply say that Eno is merely replicating the Low/"Heroes" pattern of "first side aggressive, second side passive/ambient." In my mind, that's somewhat true, but I also think he manages to transcend the pattern via the amazing accomplishment of one of the tracks (more on that later). As for the other four tracks on the side, only one isn't jaw-drop-through- the-floor quality, and even that (the five-minute instrumental "Through Hollow Lands") would have been a highlight on both Tiger Mountain and Another Green World. "Julie with ...," then, is a pop ballad that also manages to serve (in my opinion) as validation for Eno's pursuit of that whole Ambient thing, since the AMAZING vocal melody is only the final touch to one of the most brilliantly relaxing and hypnotic pieces I've ever seen. Except for Paul Rudolph's quiet bass, everything in this track comes from Eno's hands, right down to the solitary guitar twangs that seem to pop up at exactly the right times and that pluck my heart strings in just the right ways. And with the vocal melody, as well as the atmospheric lyrics, you have one of the world's only examples of "epic ambient pop ballad," which is just an amazing accomplishment in my eyes.

Up next is "By This River," a collaboration with Cluster that absolutely knocks the snot out of everything on the Cluster and Eno album. What amazes me most about this track is just how still the atmosphere created by this track is; I really feel like it's just me on the banks of a non-drifting river on a windless day, in an atmosphere of complete peace and quiet and security. And the melody, well, it may seem repetitive to keep saying, "This song has such an awesome melody!" but what else can be done? It's amazing what can be done with just a small number of keyboard chords, after all.

After "Through Hollow Lands" comes the album's finale, the grandiose, epic and totally cathartic ballad "Spider and I," which is basically the greatest Syd Barrett ballad that Syd never got the chance to pen before going totally nuts. Of course, Syd likely wouldn't have thought to use such an incredibly perfect set of synth tones, but the way Eno sings the simple vocal melody reminds me so much of Syd at his very very best that it can't help but pull my heartstrings even more than it would otherwise. It's just devestatingly powerful, even if on paper it isn't entirely obvious why it should be.

Yet for all of this, one might be tempted to say something to the effect of, "Well, the songs on side two are wonderful, but do they really fit in with the herky-jerky energy of the first side? By putting all the energetic songs on side one and all the mellow songs on side two, the cohesion of the album is made non-existent." And this could be true, were it not for the one remaining piece of the album; the keystone, the track that holds everything together and makes this album work as a whole. "Here He Comes" is an amazing song in its own right; the melody is gorgeous, the feel is mildly upbeat yet mellow, the bass solo in the middle that carries the melody is a pleasure and a half to listen to, and so on. Yet what makes this track so divine to my ears is that it accomplishes something that I cannot imagine any other track in the world pulling off; the album has only this one track as a buffer between the rhythmic fury of "King's Lead Hat" and powerful ambience of "Julie with ...," and yet the transition from the former to the latter not only doesn't feel awkward, it feels (to my ears) absolutely seamless. Because of "Here He Comes," instead of the album feeling like "half energetic nerd rock, half ambient balladry," it ends up feeling like the sound of the album slowly melts around my ears as it plays, and that is an incredible feeling and vibe to experience. And that's ultimately why this album is able to be rated as high as it is; it works as well as an album as anything else in my collection, despite the fact that, in theory, it shouldn't even come close to doing so.

So there's my gushing review of Eno's best work. I know there are some people who don't see this as a masterpiece, but I just cannot share this perspective. If you put any stock in my opinions whatsoever, please please please get this album and give it three or four listens (I admit that I wasn't blown away on first listen). Buy it next chance you get.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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