Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Brian Eno

  • Discreet Music [Antilles, 1977] A-
  • Before and After Science [Island, 1978] A-
  • Music for Films [Antilles, 1978] B+
  • Music for Airports [Ambient/PVC, 1979] B
  • On Land [Editions EG, 1982] B+
  • Apollo: Atmospherics & Soundtracks [Editions EG, 1983] B
  • More Blank Than Frank [Editions EG, 1986] A-
  • Nerve Net [Opal/Warner Bros., 1992] Dud
  • Vocal [Virgin, 1993] ***
  • The Drop [Thirsty Ear, 1997] C
  • Another Day on Earth [Hannibal/Ryko, 2005] Dud

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Discreet Music [Antilles, 1977]
That's discreet, not discrete--the title side comprises one quite minimal synthesizer piece more than thirty minutes long and the other three permutations of a schmaltzed-up Renaissance canon. Anybody who thought Another Green World sounded too much like radar blips or musical furniture should definitely avoid this. Me, I consider Another Green World miraculously lyrical and find that this encourages a meditative but secular mood (good for hard bits of writing) more effectively than any of the other rock-identified avant-garde music that's come our way. A-

Before and After Science [Island, 1978]
To call this album disappointing is to complain that it isn't transcendent. In fact, my objections begin only when he makes transcendence his goal: I don't like the murkiness of the quiet, largely instrumental reflections that take over side two. Dirty sound is functional in loud music, but no matter how much of a "water album" this is, the airy specificity of the Another Green World mix might save music like "Through Hollow Lands" from the appearance of aimlessness. None of which diminishes side one's oblique, charming tour of the popular rhythms of the day, from Phil Collins's discoid-fusion drumming on "No One Receiving" to the dense, deadpan raveup of (find the anagram) "King's Lead Hat." A-

Music for Films [Antilles, 1978]
Many of these eighteen cuts seem more like fragments than pieces, and although most of them provide subtle melodic or (especially) textural dynamics, the overall effect is a touch too willful in its impressionism for my tastes. Another Green World decelerating, which is a funny thing for movie music to do. Or maybe ECM with hindsight, a/k/a a tape splicer. B+

Music for Airports [Ambient/PVC, 1979]
Although I'm no frequenter of airports, I've found that these four swatches of modestly "ambient" minimalism have real charms as general-purpose calmatives. But I must also report that they've fared unevenly against specific backgrounds: sex (neutral to arid), baseball (pleasant, otiose), dinner at my parents' (conversation piece), abstract writing (useful but less analgesic than Discreet Music or my David Behrman record). Also, I'm still waiting for "1/1" to resolve the "Three Blind Mice" theme. B

On Land [Editions EG, 1982]
In pulse, movement, and textural detail, this falls somewhere between the static Music for Airports (a bore) and the exotic Jon Hassell collaboration (a trip). Whenever I play it (usually late at night) I experience an undeniable pleasure so mild I'm not sure anyone would want to pay for it. Caveat emptor. B+

Apollo: Atmospherics & Soundtracks [Editions EG, 1983]
Designed to help a moonshot documentary "present a set of moods," this is ambient Eno at its most accessible--often very pretty, and not without guitar. Still, I expect mood music to sustain a mood, and while as you might expect none of this is unlistenable, some of it is very nearly inaudible, which can be almost as annoying. Left to itself, "Drift" does just that, and "Stars" and "Under Stars" sound like sleep sequences. B

More Blank Than Frank [Editions EG, 1986]
With this forcebeat pioneer now ensconced as new age paterfamilias, his selection ("biased toward my taste") of "songs from the period 1973-1977" is rather more quiet than a rock-and-roller would hope. And the three Another Green World tracks stick out like paradoxes if you happen to be intimate with that complete work. But never think the man doesn't know how to put a record together. Except for the forebodingly atmospheric "Taking Tiger Mountain," these very individual songs stand up as units and unit--certainly a stronger unit than Before and After Science, former home of the forcebeat classic "King's Lead Hat." Young people who consider him a mood-music maestro might as well learn their lesson here. A-

Nerve Net [Opal/Warner Bros., 1992] Dud

Vocal [Virgin, 1993]
two discs of digitalizations to die for, one of songs on life support ("Seven Deadly Finns," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)") ***

The Drop [Thirsty Ear, 1997]
Ever the bullshitter, the St. Petersburg (Russia) muso cites as influences Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Fela, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and as an admirer of all three I only wish I could hear the way musos hear. To me it sounds like he got stuck between Music for Airports and Wrong Way Up and spun his hard drive for 74 minutes. He hears melodies whose vagueness he extols, I hear vaguenesses whose attenuation I rue. He hears basslines, I hear tinkle. He hears "sourness," I hear more tinkle. C

Another Day on Earth [Hannibal/Ryko, 2005] Dud