Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Brian Eno 15: Box Sets

Now that Eno was about as close to a household name as he would ever be, two three-CD boxes catalogued his best work, separated into “vocal” and “instrumental” halves, each in more or less chronological order. The music enclosed is alternately beautiful and unsettling, and truly gets under one’s skin.
The first two discs in the vocal box (which came out first) contain the majority of his first four “rock” albums, originally recorded and released between 1973 and 1977, with a couple of rarities thrown in (as well as a few instrumentals not included on the other box). The third disc brings together a sampling of the more infrequent “songs” Eno issued over the period from 1977 to 1993. Several of these tracks are from his unreleased My Squelchy Life, and are much less distracting than the more experimental Nerve Net, which was released instead. By that time, so-called electronic and industrial music had caught up with and surpassed the groundwork Eno laid out, and Nerve Net was left to compete with the monster it had helped to create. The Squelchy tracks show that he was still quite capable of making music like he used to, even if he chose not to share it with the world at large.

The instrumental box showcases much of his less commercially successful work created since those first four albums. Herein the listener will find a variety of textures that much of what was considered “new age” music failed to emulate. Without lyrics to decipher, it’s easier to discern how he created his sounds and atmospheres in speakers. People who know his work only through the artists he’s produced will find themselves hearing them in new ways; likewise, those not familiar with that production work will see just how much he had to do with shaping a performer’s song into the sound heard through the speakers.
The first disc covers a variety of his “music for films”, many of which had never appeared on CD. The second disc predominantly consists of instrumental collaborations with the likes of David Bowie, Cluster and Robert Fripp. The third disc is almost totally ambient, seven tracks mostly edited from lengthy pieces.

For the neophyte, the Eno boxes were eye-opening. For the consummate Enophile, the exponentially improved sound along with various out-of-print selections made it all a worthy investment. (Now that both are out of print, you’re stuck with paying exorbitant used prices, or sticking with the albums that are still available.) The packaging is unique, though the essays that accompany each box are alternatively self-absorbed and non-illuminating. Only Eno himself could possibly verbalize the creative process that went into the development of this music, much of which happened by chance. Few other places in the catalog of popular music will one find such a high success rate.

Brian Eno Box II: Vocal (1993)—4
Brian Eno Box I: Instrumental (1994)—4

2 comments:

  1. Eno first came to my attention when he worked with Paul Simon on the "Surprise" album. At the time I had intended to listen to some of Eno's work but never got around to it. You've got me interested in him again. I'm going to give a CD or two of his a try.

    Geoff

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  2. Start slow and cheap, that's my motto. The four "rock" albums are a good place to start. Another Green World is probably the best balance between his vocal work and his ambient stuff. Good luck!

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