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17 July 2013

Eno - 'Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)' (Island)

Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) was made six years before I was born. Yet, I feel as close to this music as to anything made in my lifetime, despite the fact that this is a deliberately obtuse art-rock concept album made by a rich British rockstar at the height of his fame. This is the Eno album with a "narrative", though that's pretty hard to grasp. The far east theme rides throughout, making Eno quite prescient when it comes to world politics, though I guess 'East vs. West' is an age-old dilemma (which all sumo wrestling is based on, I think). The glam trappings of Warm Jets are somewhat dormant, instead allowing for evil pre-"post-punk" throbbing ('Third Uncle'), demented nursery rhymes ('Put a Straw Under Baby'), jittery rock opera ('China My China'), and surreal mini-epics ('Mother Whale Eyeless'). There's some more extremely artificial guitar tones, courtesy of his old friend Manzanera and Eno's own 'snake guitar' (which cuts through 'China' like a nailgun), plus a lot of creatively recorded keyboards, synths, and even some piano. The title track closes it out by looking ahead to Another Green World and it does so with the understated beauty and elegance that Eno's perfect at. So I'm just describing Taking Tiger Mountain again, which I'm sure enough proper critics have done before, but what does it mean to me? I was recently at a party where a bunch of my peers were talking about the first Guns N' Roses album and how significant it was to their cultural identity (though being a party, they weren't using those exact words, instead bathing it in a wash of emotional nostalgia and common familiarity, but that's what I took from it, so whatever) and I realised that I feel the same way about this, even though I didn't hear it until my college years. But those were good years to come of age intellectually and creatively, and Taking Tiger Mountain (which has little, I remind you, to emotionally connect with) seemed to be at the peak ratio between brainy experimentalism and satisfying rock and roll songcraft. Even the cover steps back from the flashy occult-leanings of Warm Jets and shows a multifaceted Eno, his hand placed on his head to show that he's bringing the cerebral to rock and roll. It's not for everyone, but for me, it was like a map of potentialities, none of which I ever actually pursued myself. 

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