Looking at albums as historical documents, as relics of time, as artifacts deposited for future generations to find, look back upon, and come to theories, hypotheses, and conclusions, we can now look back at Brian Eno’s landmark Another Green World and discover a stepping stone, a lone island of sound, a hallmark of the dawning of a new era in music. For this is one of those places, children, one of those sacred places where we can go and truly experience the birth of an art form.
Eno’s third album is truly a bridge between his first two rock driven albums, Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, and his later ambient work. There are still a few scattered pop songs in the mix, but for the most part, Another Green World was a bit of a departure for Eno and his fans that hung on from his Roxy Music days. I hope that most of them hung in there, because what they got with this album was a definite treat and a historical document, whether they knew it at the time or not.
Whereas most successful rock band simply play music, that is, they take notes and chords and structures and then play them, both in the studio and to audiences, what Truly Great artists do is `create’ music. These artists aren’t satisfied with the instruments, sounds, and notes that are already out there. No, these cats want to turn the whole thing on its ear and start from scratch. They play with effects, studio equipment, and processors in order to take something seemingly ordinary and making it new and original. The Beatles did it. Bowie did it. And somewhere in between was Eno and then myriads after him, influenced by him, and transformed by his art.
If you read reviews of Another Green World, you will see three words repeated ad infinitum. Those words are `minimalist’, `experimental’, and `ambient’. All of these words fit, and also somehow fall short of how genius the album truly is. The three `pop’ songs are, if nothing else, bridges between soundscapes. Usually it works the other way around, that an album of pop songs contains some filler instrumental work to plug into the seams. Instead, in “St. Elmo’s Fire” (no, not that one), “I’ll Come Running”, and the fantastically sparse “Golden Hours” (not to be confused with, although can be a great sister song to, Bowie’s “Golden Years”), this album finds it only truly `accessible’ pop songs, that is, songs with a familiar pop structure and vocals.
The rest of the album proper is filled with beautiful abstractions of musical artistry. Take for instance “Becalmed”. Consisting of only spare overlapping keyboard music, the track is as evocative and emotional as any song I’ve ever heard, if not more so. Simply having headphones on and listening to “Becalmed” in a dark place can bring tears of sheer joy, sadness, frustration, and love to my eyes. I don’t know how he did it, but Eno tapped into something at the very core of human emotion and then played with it like a puppet. That being said, I wasn’t the least bit upset about it. In fact, I wanted the experience to continue long beyond the four minutes that the song actually lasts. Then again, I’m a little afraid of how much emotional damage exposed time to Eno’s genius could do.
Another Green World was the beginning of and the inspiration for so many followers, that I could list artists and albums for pages. Instead, I will simply aver that the genres of ambient and new age would probably not exist without Brian Eno’s existence. Eno was able to be inspired by Kurt Weill, Erik Satie, John Cage, and the Velvet Underground, throw in some progressive rock, and then create something entirely new and interesting. Separating himself from the `glam-rock’ movement which created his fame, Eno risked stardom for expression, renown for theory, and popularity for innovation. We are the better for it.
This striking achievement in music is one that also stands the test of time. One can listen to Another Green World alongside Aphex Twin, The Orb, and other ambient or contemporary new age albums and not feel that it is dated in any way. Think of some of your favorite albums of today. I’ll bet almost anything that, in a `Kevin Bacon’ fashion, you can link that album to Brian Eno in three steps or less. Whether it’s through his accomplished production work, his ethereal and haunting ambient compositions, or his rock and roll roots, Brian Eno has been a master of his craft for years. I’m off now to both listen to more Eno reissues and start writing profuse thank you notes to Astralwerks.
Moby – Play
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works, Vol.2
David Bowie – “Heroes”