Saturday, October 29, 2005
During my musical formative years no musician was deified more by my friends than Brian Eno. I still consider the first two Roxy Music albums among my very favorite ever, and Enoís post-Roxy quartet of solo albums (Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, Before and After Science, Here Come the Warm Jets, Another Green World) remain as brilliant and influential now as at their release (witness, in the left side bar, Sigur Rosís Takk).
Since those four releases Eno has made his ambient series, collaborated widely (including the shamefully underappreciated Wrong Way Up with the shamefully underappreciated John Cale), and produced albums for others, most famously the Berlin Trilogy of Bowie (Low, Heroes, Lodger), U2, and Talking Heads. (The title of Enoís own antic "Kingís Lead Hat", off Before and After Science, is an anagram of Talking Heads.)
Another Day on Earth, Enoís first vocal album in years, has just been released. I bought it the day it came out. I feared listening to it. I knew I would be disappointed. If I consider Another Green World, which the title of the new album I assume is meant to echo, unassailably groundbreaking - or at least so to me - unless Eno had discovered an entirely new musical language, at best Another Day on Earth could only be as good as his earlier work, which means it couldnít be as good because not new.
Another Day on Earth is unmistakably an Eno album. The aural chirps and propulsively rhythmic ticks, the druid airiness of his vocals are all there, but theyíre there seemingly exactly as they were back in 1975. There is one song I very much like, the opening cut "This," and no songs I dislike. I feel no compulsion to listen to it again any time soon. I suspect that next time I feel like listening to Eno Iíll pull out Before and After Science.
Which makes me feel a bit guilty, feel a bit sad. Even a mediocre Eno album - if this is what Another Day on Earth is - I find more satisfying than the majority of new music that I hear. And yet I find the album a disappointment, which calls into question my objectivity as it is related to my expectations. What obligations do I have as a fan, a fan who may have irresponsibly beatified a musician in my youth, when approaching a new album, well after the beatification, of that saint? On whom is the onus of newness, the musician who produces the album he wants or the listener whoís demanding the thrill and freedom of freshness he felt when he first heard the musician thirty years ago? Perhaps Brian Eno has made an album far more subtle in its innovations and re-inventions than I - who remember how revelatory and revolutionary I found his earlier work and selfishly want that feeling again - can appreciate. And whose fault is that?
Iíve never written about music, at least not for public consumption. Friends of mine will testify, however, that of the many things I always am willing to express opinions about, music is very high on my list. Fortunately, as in everything else Iím willing to share my opinion about, I have a very strong belief in the worth of my opinions. People who Iíve thrust CDs upon, insisting that the CD is wonderful or that a particular person will like a particular artist, usually come back more than pleased I did so. So if youíre reading this site, let me consider you a friend, and if I donít know you personally, rest assured the opinions/reviews I offer are the same as if we were sitting across a table.
I want to thank Jerry Bowles for inviting me to participate in both this blog and in his political blog, Best of the Blogs. Iíve never met Jerry face to face (though he does have an open invitation to dinner should he have time next time he visits DC), but he has been incredibly generous in allowing me to voice my opinions on BoB. The first time music became a discussion between us I had not yet been invited to BoB and was posting as a commentor to his request for something new to listen to (I donít remember all that I posted, but I do recall that I recommended the 2004 Delays CD Faded Seaside Glamour, a brilliant pop album). Recently on BoB I posted about the Knitters new CD, The Modern Sounds of the Knitters, as well as linked to an NPR interview with members of the Knitters (two of whom, Exene Cervenka and John Doe were the heart and soul of X), and that post - and a question I asked him about Meredith Monk: I was Mr Richard Feder from Fort Lee NJ - sparked Jerry to invite me to be a contributor of sorts to his wonderful contemporary classical music site Sequenza21. With unusual for me trepidation, I accepted.
So, some disclosure, up front:
I am not a musician. I played piano in my youth, I can read music, I could probably pass a first semester final exam in Intro to Music Theory, but only if I studied hard.
My opinions about music, especially rock/pop/indie, are based mostly on whether I like the music or not, though I have very strong reactions to the cultural positioning of the music. Consider the song ďOops I Did it Again,Ē covered most famously by Brittany Spears but also covered by one of my favorites, Richard Thompson in his 1000 Years of Popular Music tour. In the first instance, the song struck me as ordinary, but itís intent, to magnify the singer as boy-toy commodity, made me think of the song as a commodity, a product that happened to be packaged as music. Thompsonís cover, however, placed within the context of 1000 Years, and within the context of Thompsonís own songwriting style, revealed a wonderfully dark, self-recriminating song.
Which is to say, there is not always logic to what I like or dislike, and I bring all of the biases I bring to politics to my taste in music. If I feel Iím being played for a mark - I mean, for instance, how can people still be buying the same Elton John song repackaged each year for the past three decades - Iím as unlikely to like the musical project no matter how wonderful I might find the same song in a totally different context. Part of the project of BDRIB will be to allow me to explore my own reaction to different music and the context of that reaction. There are matrices here I want to understand better than I do now.
I would like this blog to be mutually instructive and educational. I am humbled to read the knowledge and passion of Jerryís posters and commentors on Sequenza21, and, for the time being, I can add very little to discussions on most of the composers listened to and written about over on S21. I want to learn more. I invite everyone to invite me to listen to music you think worth listening to, and that is not limited to contemporary classical/postclassical; please point me at music of all types you think should be heard. I want to turn you onto the music I'm excited about. In exchange, I'd like you to let me know what you think I should be listening to.