Brian Eno - Another Green World

by Mark Moody Rating:10 Release Date:1975-09-01

Early on in Brian Eno’s prolific career he released four solo albums that generally operated within a rock/pop framework.  All are outstanding in their own right, but I’m not alone in singling out Another Green World (released in September 1975) as both my favorite and the most influential of these.  The other three, Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), and Before and After Science, are certainly masterpieces (all rated five stars on AllMusic), but don’t step out of the pop framework nearly as much as Another Green World.  All push musical boundaries with experimental instrumentation – treated guitars; tape loops that build, sustain, and decay; complex polyrhythms – but the other releases are still primarily vocal oriented works and the lyrics tend toward the nonsensical (particularly the first two) which ultimately make them not seem as “serious” as Another Green World.  The album has a foot remaining in the pop world, but primarily has stepped forward into another realm entirely of unworldly sounds and landscapes.  Eno has a smaller band here with some notables on board, Robert Fripp, John Cale, and Phil (‘Against All Odds’) Collins, but the studio itself and the clipping together of recorded snippets are the primary instruments used.

The album starts on an ominous note with ‘Sky Saw’, a collage of sawing viola, sniffing bass, and skittering drums that recall the krautrock of Can, but after the first minute becomes awash in heavily treated and layered sounds.  There are minimal lyrics that allude to their own meaninglessness and perhaps those on preceding albums as well – “no one knows what they mean, everyone just ignores them”.  A few tracks on ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’, even though one of the more lyrically dominated tracks, sets a more pastoral tone that foreshadows the subtle, ambient content to come.  The lyrics also reference deserts, storms, moors and wandering amongst them, which frame the different settings that are evoked throughout the album and also the mystery of St. Elmo’s fire itself – “splitting ions in the ether”.  If there was any doubt that there is a different journey going on here, this track seals it with Fripp’s otherworldly solo putting a stamp on it.  ‘In Dark Trees’ imagines an as yet undiscovered jungle being explored – the track also foretells a sound that reappears on the Talking Heads’ ‘The Overload’ off of Remain in Light.  The next track ‘The Big Ship’ is the highlight of the album for me and shows the ambient approach in its full form.  A mild industrial churning underlies the song, but soft tones that swell and collapse on each other form the backbone.  Clearly music, without words, can bring forth strong emotions and there is a sense of sadness at the core here that becomes overpowering yet so subtle that you hardly see it coming.  Forty years on, the song is still being used in movie soundtracks – Me, Earl and the Dying Girl being a recent example where it is effectively used.  The title ‘The Big Ship’ brings to mind the more humanistic of sci-fi movies, you could see this placed in the key contact scene of ‘The Arrival’, the piece being so evocative that an image could form around it as opposed to the other way around.  Another of the vocally oriented songs, ‘I’ll Come Running’, is about as close to a love song as you could expect from Eno.  As if he knew he was working on a piece of great import, he doesn’t devolve into bizarre lyrics, but plays it rather straight.  The protagonist of the song here no longer wandering, but calling his love to come to him in his isolation such that an air of travel across vast distances is still maintained.  The title track, although not the beginning of side two of the original vinyl, starts with ten seconds of silence slowly fading into another brief but emotionally charged piece.

Side two starts adventurously with ‘Sombre Reptiles’, slinky percussion with simple but heavily treated guitar – again bringing forth an exotic faraway place, perhaps Casablanca or some other balmy port.  ‘Golden Hours’ concerns itself with growing old while sonically having a repetitive chop to the melody which is echoed by some of Fripp’s more delicate yet textured work.  Here too, towards the end of the song, Eno layers in vocals on top of each other and does so without any chaos being created.  It sounds like the most natural, soothing thing in the world.  There is a lot going on in this song but as pieced together as a wobbly whole it sounds organic and I think holds up as the best of the more vocal oriented tracks, also showing how expertly disparate parts can be seamlessly blended together.  As ‘The Big Ship’ is the emotional anchor of the first half of the album, ‘Becalmed’ serves as the heart of the second half.  Pointing to the more subtle shifts of his future ambient works, ‘Becalmed’ is a series of layered elongated synth notes – one coming in on top of the fade of the last - with soft piano notes sprinkled throughout.  A simply gorgeous four minutes that begs for the future state of longer, similar pieces in Eno’s future.  Not having quite the gravitas of an opening track like ‘Sky Saw’, side two continues the more pastoral path on ‘Everything Merges With The Night’.  The song starts with untreated piano and acoustic guitar and becomes a showcase of more heavily manipulated chords over another lyrically straightforward song.  The song mentions the beach, a volcano, the breeze and as visual an image as you could conjure – picking straw out of clothes.  Eno ponders the invisibility of these landscapes and the people that inhabit them as they all fade into the darkness of the night – a soundtrack to any ending day.  The album closes simply with a final more somber number, putting a gauzy haze around the package before it is put away to contemplate again later.  So many things shape, evolve, and then transform over the course of the album that it will hold up for each listener to last their respective lifetimes.  An enormously important work, that there is no way I can effectively describe.   So if you haven’t encountered it before hopefully you will seek it out and have your own experience.                

Eno’s solo work after Another Green World took things more down the ambient path of soundscapes to accompany different settings or themes – space travel, airports and so on.  The passages on Another Green World being smaller snapshots compared to the longer form passages of the works to come.  Eno never let go of the pop world either, but more through production of other acts after this.  Most notably his work with the Talking Heads and David Bowie being prime examples – each of which he produced multiple releases for and left an indelible stamp on.  So much so that he was effectively a band member which led to internal strife in the Heads and leading Bowie to include extended instrumental sections over his Berlin trilogy of albums.  Eno would also go on to produce more mainstream acts as well, including an extended partnership with U2 and later, Coldplay.

Another Green World has served, in hindsight, as the Rosetta stone for so much of modern music with Eno its author.  The more pastoral ambient passages of the album apparent in releases by bands such as Sigur Rós or Mogwai.  The studio experimentation and layering of sounds has evolved into the complex pop of bands like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, though the massed vocal harmonies of those bands certainly owe more to Brian Wilson than Eno.  The dense polyrhythms and sound beds that are not so characteristic of Another Green World but of later works (like Nerve Net and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts with Byrne) and production efforts can be seen in the more rhythmic of the electronic indie bands such as LCD Soundsytem and Alt-J.  How a work could be so influential forty years on is a testament to Eno’s genius and willingness to push boundaries, even though he has stated himself he wasn’t certain what was going to come together in the studio when he went in to record.  Different tracks and sounds have morphed and splintered into other artists’ works, whether that be in music or film, such that the album and its creator’s influence have been fully ingrained into society and not many albums conceived in a pop structure can claim that.             

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