Brian Eno & David Byrne – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)
Popmatters‘ Tim O’Neil: “Whereas oftentimes My Life in the Bush of Ghosts has been described as “influential”, I think a better term would be prescient. Influence is an extremely tricky field to measure. There is no way to know just how many people heard the album and were directly inspired. It is easier to say merely that the album was amazingly accurate in its predictions. Whether or not it helped precipitate the subsequent movements (hip-hop, world and electronic music) for which it served as a vanguard, it was ultimately less a catalyst than an anachronism, an album out of time, the kind of artifact that becomes increasingly important in hindsight, long after its initial outlandish predictions have been vindicated by time and circumstances. Whereas it might have seemed odd in 1981, now it is accepted in even the most conservative quarters that sampling is ubiquitous; world music has entered the global pop marketplace and become more than simply an ethnographic concern, and the role of the musician has changed to reflect these technological and sociological realities.”
Tracks 1 and 5 are the biggest draws here. Respectively, a radio show host condemning pusillanimous Americans over scratchy guitar and squelchy drums; an exorcist trying to force out Jezebel over the album’s funkiest track (dig the high-pitched run of notes that comes in in the second half, underpinning or underscoring the exorcist’s commands). Both are fitting snapshots of an America that just elected Ronald Reagan as president (despite being written and recorded before that). And the three in between ain’t bad: “Mea Culpa” is notable for the ‘conversation’ of two different demon-tongues, one fast-talking and one deeper, slower (great drums underneath, which shift to become the forefront of the track); “Regiment” has a nice bass-line; “Help Me Somebody,” which I originally wrote off as a less song-y “I Zimbra” has some nice speckles of guitar colours over its prickly bongos. After those, you’re better off to go straight to Peter Gabriel’s discography in the 1980s, which full absorbed this album’s “darkness” and eclecticism, and well, did more with those sounds (“Come With Us” is likely the worst thing in Eno’s discography, to be honest, and “Mountain of Needles” ain’t exactly “evocative” or “atmospheric” like it clearly wants to be). That’s all I got on this one, and frankly, I don’t even like the first half all that much. To me, this is less cerebral than almost anything Eno had put his name to by 1981.
Harold Budd / Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois – The Pearl (1984)
Crucially, I don’t think Budd is a Satie, or that Satie’s most renown piano pieces were meant to be background music (to say nothing of Satie’s less renown ones), or that Eno’s reverberated production (this time with some help from Daniel Lanois) would’ve added anything to those pieces. That being said, this one does have “A Stream With Bright Fish,” which is one of Eno’s 5 best instrumental tracks. Here, Budd is more Debussy in how he paints pictures: the flourishes do indeed swim by like bright fish, and the colours of the after-image in the ripples get sustained – for the only time on the album – by Eno and Lanois’ production.
Brian Eno – Thursday Morning (1985)
When Brian Eno created Discreet Music back in 1975, he filled out the first side of the vinyl with the 30-minute title track. Technologies improved, and now he could fill out 60 minutes of a CD and so he does just that: a couple of keyboard plinks over electronic textures, and then fed through some mathematical formula such that it “subtly changes” over the run-time; the same thing he’s been doing for a decade now. I’m admittedly no fan of Eno’s ambient stuff, but at least he had two ideas on Discreet Music, four on Music for Airports, too many for Music for Films and its sequel, etc – this one, being one track and all, is one idea that took Eno less time to write than you to listen.
Here’s CapnMarvel‘s best takedown:
“Why it’s so fucking popular to sit there and tear Lou Reed, a man with about six times the longevity of creativity that his worshipper Brian Eno ended up having, for putting out Metal Machine Music in 1975. Sure, it was nothing but 117 minutes of tuneless, grating guitar feedback, but so is half the fucking Melvins catalog, and that never stopped them from being perennial Number One chart successes! But you know what? Lou ‘d’ Reed actually went into the studio and played all that stuff…in real time! Or, you know…stood somewhere nearby while the amplifiers and pickups did their respective things! Someone had to induce those guitars to sound like that, because they really don’t tend to do that on their own. Plus, and this is key there’s actual sound on the tape! For all of those 117 minutes! Talk about value for money, kids. Just look at your graphic readout when you play it…it dances all over the place like Brazilians with their asses on fire. Put on Thursday Afternoon and…nothing. 61 minutes of four repeated tones flatter than Claire Danes in a Hanes sports bra. Maybe, just maybe some incidental pops and whistles that might as well be coming from your stomach when you realize Brian Eno, with the magic of modern synthesizer technology as it is, didn’t even need to be in the same time zone as his synthesizer bank as this piecashit was being recorded! Hell, he didn’t even need to program a sequencer or anything…just leave the studio window open and let pigeons shit on the keys. Opa…instant ambient masterpiece. He was off somewhere trading in antique golden shower porn and waiting for Thom Yorke to be born so he could have someone new to kiss his ass, and we’re stuck here with this shrinkwrapped, whispered ‘fuck you’ to all of us chumps who continue to subject ourselves to this unfettered bullshit. Just because Reed had the minerals to scream out his expletive in front of everyone, he still gets crucified. Plus, and this is absolutely key – Lou Reed did his cursing once and then went back to making hit-or-miss albums that at least appealed to somebody, more or less. Lou Reed did not insist on making Metal Machine Music, Plastic Machine Music, Mineral Machine Music, and Vinyl Siding Machine Music in an effort to, through sheer stubborn refusal to believe that he might be wrong, convince people that albums full of fucking guitar feedback are really, truly worthy of being released on a regular basis. Okay, Eno invented this kind of product. At one time you could even say he did it well, making it interesting in short doses. But when your entire thought process revolves around making this stuff as uninteresting as possible, then what’s the point? Did you really come up with a whole lot more things to say between On Land and Apollo? Did Music for Airports really leave the audience thirsting for more, or do they just follow you around because asshole critics who are afraid of ever admitting they don’t understand something can’t gather the balls to say the emperor is as bare-assed as a fucking newborn baby? Yes, Brian, you were great once. Really great. Perhaps you still have something to say. But this ambient bullshit of yours is as sinister and cynical a way to deceive the public as has been seen in the music industry in a loooonnnggg time. Eno gets stroked like a fat old neutered tabby because he once made Another Green World. Where’s the justice in that, exactly?”