ENO ON THE BEACH

On the Vinyl Connection coffee table is On Some Faraway Beach, David Sheppard’s 2008 biography of Brian Eno. It is a substantial and thoroughly researched tome covering the birth, growth, education and unfolding of non-musician Brian Peter George Jean-Baptiste de la Salle Eno. Sheppard even demystifies the preposterous name.

Now Mr Eno is a most interesting character and his story makes for an entertaining read, charged as it is with showers of the man’s creativity and spurts of his eccentricity. And quite a lot of shagging too.

David Sheppard Brian Eno

Most readers will know Eno from his vital quasi-musical role in the formation of Roxy Music. If you don’t know Roxy with Eno, read this terrific piece on the first album by Mr 1537. Then acquire both it and the even better second LP, For Your Pleasure. That will bring you to the point where Bryan (Ferry, of course) and Brian (our hero) parted company with extreme prejudice. Well, more cool English politeness. Yet part they most certainly did. Icy looks at dawn and all that.

Eno had a couple of songs, lots of ideas, and a solid cohort of Roxy friends and extras. He herded this crew into the decidedly un-hip Majestic studios – recording space and control room conveniently behind a large bingo hall – and got down to it.

Here come the warm jets Eno

The result was Here Come The Warm Jets; exciting as a lucky dip filled with burning fireworks and varied as Eno’s 70s wardrobe. Opening with the squalling Velvet Underground guitars of “Needle in the Camel’s Eye”, Eno multi-tracks his voice to declaim a lyric notable only for its banality:

Goes to show

How winds blow

The weather’s fine

And I feel so, so, so, so, so.

They say Brian Eno has a brain the size of a planet. Must have been lost in space at the time, but who cares as Phil Manzanera and Chris Spedding thrash those churning guitars. There’s a rising line punctuating the middle of song that really pulls you in… then it stops. I love a song with a stop – you know, where the song has a brief gap before continuing – and this one has three. Talk about 70s indulgence.

Warm Jets A

“The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch” has a strange falsetto vocal; shades of camp Lou Reed or perhaps even anticipating David Byrne. (Talking of colour, you wouldn’t title a song like that now, would you? Sheppard justifies it loyally, but it’s simply uncomfortable). There is a brilliant and very silly synthesiser solo that somehow evokes both “Virginia Plain” and a drunk Robby The Robot before more chiming, treated guitar. The song segues into the piss-taking but absurdly catchy “Baby’s on Fire”. Robert Fripp’s guitar solo is – to employ an overused music cliché – incendiary. Or to use a bespoke Vinyl Connection phrase: fucked up and fucking brilliant. I love that Eno offers him a light; Fripp takes the match and razes the damn neighbourhood.

Apparently Eno was using dream-like images and impressionistic (expressionistic?) stream-of-consciousness for his lyrics. Could be; many of them make no sense at all while others evoke something almost, but not quite, totally unlike real life.

Photographers snip snap

Take your time she’s only burning

This kind of experience

Is necessary for her learning

The man’s love of doo-wop and 50s vocal pop comes through in the rather uninspired “Cindy tells me” though Phil Manzanera provides a tasty guitar solo and the background synth colours are 1973 fresh.

The first side of Eno’s first solo album concludes with “Driving me Backwards” a wailing vocal over a lumbering piano. This is the most confronting song on the album; musically constrained and trumpeting the limitations of Eno’s vocal prowess, it grinds onwards relentlessly. The phasing of the guitar stabs between the speakers is disorientating as the distortion builds. “Driving me backwards” is a special song for those angry paranoid times.

IMG_0148

*

Given the chance, I’ll die like a baby

On some far away beach

When the season’s over

 

Unlikely, I’ll be remembered

As the tide brushes sand in my eyes

I’ll drift away

 

Cast up on a plateau with only one memory

A single syllable, oh lie low, lie low

Lie lie lie

The opening of side two of Here Come The Warm Jets could not be more different from the first side. A rich chocolate wave of choral lushness rises over a piano figure until, after a build-up of almost sobbing intensity, Eno’s brief verse appears, sad and beautiful. The ending jars slightly, a wonky reminder of the simple piano figure, then slam! the snarling “Blank Frank” bursts forth with menace, machine guns and a Bo Diddley beat. It’s punk as fuck and a thrilling transition from the sunrise cinema of “On some faraway beach”.

Much has been made of Eno’s apparent aping of Bryan Ferry on “Dead Finks don’t Talk”. Our man denied it at first, though later conceded that there may have been ‘unintentional’ connections. Sure, Brian. It’s a loose, slight piece whose most interesting moments come in the experimental ending that segues into “Some of them are old”, a gentle song permeated by an air of nostalgia and resignation oddly enhanced by Lloyd Watson’s slide guitar. I love the closing gongs that evoke – maybe – distant church bells.

And that just leaves the title song. “Here Come the Warm Jets”, whose buzzing multi-layered guitars provide a buffed bookend to the opening snarl of “Needle in the Camel’s Eye”. If you imagine the drums lifted much higher in the mix, there is a distinct flavour of Can here. Eno’s vocal sits back in the mix, a monotone line that the guitar melody seems to weave around hypnotically. The waves scour the shore, the tide washes sand in our eyes…

Warm Jets Side B

*

When it comes to assessing their own work, musicians are notoriously myopic. “The new album is my best ever.” Disagree if you dare. Yet the world and its dog know with absolute certainty that the best work is now four decades in the past.

So it was refreshing – impressive even – to read in Sheppard’s book the comments of Eno to writer Ian MacDonald in 1977 when pondering the critical accolades heaped upon Here Come The Warm Jets.

I didn’t think it deserved the good reviews it got. There was a sort of mystique about it which protected it – made you think that if you didn’t like something about it, it was your fault, not mine.

David Sheppard summarizes the glam diversity of Jets as an uneasy amalgam of “Anglicized Velvet Underground art pop, baroque Beatles-parody, electronic tone washes, sardonic, sub-1950s doo-wop pastiche” (page 150). While I have no major quibbles with that conglomerate description, it is the vivid, bravura energy of creativity and devil-may-care adventure that makes Here Come The Warm Jets an enduringly enjoyable experience. This is the album of a bubbling provocateur who was totally at home being interviewed for NME by a young Chrissie Hynde while wearing a red satin kimono and showing his freshly depilated pubes.

It may be a confounding image to picture a pale effete Englishman swaggering through a landscape of synthesised noise, distorted guitars and transmuted pop sensibilities, but that’s what is on offer. It is as curiously exotic as the rag-bag of objects pictured on the cover, including Eno’s lush make-up and the ‘pornographic’ playing cards (that have nothing at all to do with the title of the album. Nothing). Eno wasn’t taking the piss, he was filming it. Four decades on the film is still marvellously entertaining; tumescent with mischief, wit and experimental verve.

 

 

 

21 comments

  1. Wonderful stuff Bruce. Not sure I want to think about Eno shagging though – was he a bit of a dirty cerebral doggy then?

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    1. Are you familiar with the term ‘priapic’?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Isn’t that a model of car bought out by Toyota?

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        1. That’s the one. Runs on libid O2.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I did have a (cough) downloaded copy of this LP years ago but couldn’t get on with it very well. You’ve inspired me to revisit it. I like what he had to say about his critical cachet shielding him from criticism, that strikes me as very honest.

    Their respective covers prove the superiority of vinyl to CD for ever, surely?

    And thank you for the shout-out, I played that yesterday actually.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Worth revisiting, definitely.
      And a big ‘Yep’ to the superiority of LP art over CDs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was not terribly impressed by this when I listened (it’s on the 1001) – not completely unimpressed but a disappointing somewhere in between.
        So I’ll echo sir 1537’s gratitude for the post & quote, a revisit is in order!

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        1. It is always going to be a big ask to mould so many different styles and ideas together into something cohesive. And there’s no doubt that HCTWJ fails to do this convincingly. What it does do is provide a bumpy but exhilarating ride if one is able to get on board.
          Or perhaps, as Eno said, it’s not that good after all..

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        2. That penultimate sentence describes my kind of album – Eno’s on the list a few more times, he seems like the kind of guy that no two records are alike

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh man, one of those albums i revisit very often, and have done now for 30+ years, got it in the early 80’s – I’ve (almost) allways been an enthusiastic Fripp devotee, and as you point out, he shines on this album. But it’s not that, there is realy something very special about the album, very weird yet very catchy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pleased to have struck a positive chord. With a bit of luck others might investigate its jagged charms.

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  4. Really great post, though I can’t say I know any of Eno’s stuff at all (the odd track here and there, perhaps). Judging by the response, I assume this isn’t an ideal starting point, but I must admit that I’m intrigued …

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the read J; Eno certainly is an intriguing artist, as you say.
      As to where to start, that’s tricky as the diversity is great both between albums and within them. Sort of inter- and intra- variety. I wrote about his first album as I’m rather interested in initial utterances, but if I was returning to Eno’s solo work (I’m excluding his collaborations with Robert Fripp here as they are a different genre) I would choose my favourite to write about: Another Green World.
      Maybe if Vinyl Connection continues into a third year we may see a piece on that one.
      Thanks for visiting and commenting J.

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      1. Another Green World sounds like it would be a good starting place for a chap like me.

        … and here’s to a third year!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “Baby’s on Fire” is high among my all-time electric guitar song faves. The overall LP for me however is one I very much desire to like but fall short — thanks much for Eno’s quote re “(thinking) that if you didn’t like something about it, it was your fault” as that describes precisely my long-held guilt over not more fully embracing it. Your post helps lift the self-imposed burden, and may even allow for a revisiting without encumbering baggage.

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    1. Here’s a short para I deleted from the post:

      A halo of positive critical endorsement surrounding an album to the extent that it distorts perception? Could the album have been more aptly named The Emperor’s New Clothes?

      It’s an interesting theme. I aim for an approach that says: there’s something here if I am open to hearing it. Course it doesn’t always work; sometimes my encumbering baggage is too firmly attached!

      Hope any ‘lighter’ revisit to HCTWJ offers you something VotF. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. I really enjoyed reading this review of what has to be one of my favourite Eno albums. I’m not sure why, but the track you describe as the most confronting (an assessment I can’t fault by the way) was always one that fascinated me the most musically. Must be my perverse nature that always drove me back to this particular track time and time again (bad pun intended, but honest sentiment expressed). I feel this album really was a fantastic sampler and promise of the offerings from Eno that were to come and as such deserves a great deal of regard in his impressive discography.

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    1. Very pleased you enjoyed the piece Cameron, and thanks for your comments. Sampler is not at all inappropriate for HCTWJ, though his restless creativity never stood still. If you enjoy rock biographies as well as Eno’s music, I can recommend the Sheppard book.

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  7. […] Original Post: February 2015 […]

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  8. ‘Jets’ has a place in CB’s listening history. Loved this album, still do. ‘Beach’ is, well it’s just one of those songs that does it for me. CB will be casting his warped memory back and writing a piece on it soon. Not to try and out do you Bruce (impossible) but just my experience with this record. I have to get it out of my system

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Look forward to it!

      Liked by 1 person

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