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21 July 2013

Brian Eno - 'Before and After Science' (Island)

This is the most maligned Eno album, at least of the vocal tetralogy, and I'm not sure why. No, it's not as timeless as Another Green World or Taking Tiger Mountain, but it moves relentlessly forward in pursuit of whatever he was interested in in 1977, which is why the earlier records are so great. Sometimes I think people get mixed up with what they want an artist to be vs. what the artist wants to actually be. Of course, there's no accounting for taste and I also don't blanketly accept any choice of direction that any artist makes. But in the case of Before and After Science, I don't think that he's committed any great aesthetic crimes. This is divided into two halves, really - the punchy dustups are on the first half and the gentle, sweet songs come out to play on side two. Clearly, his interest in rhythms and beats is evident, as the opening cut 'No One Receiving' toes the water and 'Kurt's Rejoinder' furthers - the paleo-futurism of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is almost upon us, and the genius production of those Talking Heads records even more apparent. This warbling, ethnic-leaning affect isn't so egregious; there's striking similarity, in terms of production, as Bowie's Lodger, though this actually predates it. What's different is the voice of the singer-songwriter - Eno is the calm, thinking type, and Bowie the edgy rockstar. 'King's Lead Hat', an anagram of Talking Heads, is probably the one for your mixtape, taking the Fear of Music production techniques to more distinctly Eno songcraft. It's a winner for sure, but my sympathies are more with side two, particularly 'Julie With...' and 'By the River'. The latter is built around a simple electric piano, and here Eno's just crooning romantically without any need for studio/tech wizardry. It's this second side where I think people get lost, as it creeps a bit too much towards balladry; I find this a nice counterpoint. If anything is to criticise for Before and After Science it's that these two sides (the innovative studio genius and the sensitive melodic troubadour) are more separated, where in Another Green World they're perfectly balanced. But that's exactly why it's "Before" and "After" science, right?

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