Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Eno/Cale [extended]

  • Vintage Violence [Columbia, 1970] C+
  • Church of Anthrax [Columbia, 1971] C
  • The Academy in Peril [Reprise, 1972] B
  • Paris 1919 [Reprise, 1973] B+
  • Here Come the Warm Jets [Island, 1974] A
  • Fear [Island, 1974] A-
  • Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) [Island, 1975] A-
  • Slow Dazzle [Island, 1975] A-
  • No Pussyfooting [Antilles, 1975] B+
  • Another Green World [Island, 1976] A+
  • Evening Star [Antilles, 1976] B+
  • Discreet Music [Antilles, 1977] A-
  • Guts [Island, 1977] A
  • Before and After Science [Island, 1978] A-
  • Music for Films [Antilles, 1978] B+
  • Music for Airports [Ambient/PVC, 1979] B
  • Sabotage/Live [Spy/I.R.S., 1979] B
  • Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics [Editions EG, 1980] A
  • My Life in the Bush of Ghosts [Sire, 1981] C+
  • Honi Soit [A&M, 1981] B+
  • On Land [Editions EG, 1982] B+
  • Apollo: Atmospherics & Soundtracks [Editions EG, 1983] B
  • More Blank Than Frank [Editions EG, 1986] A-
  • Wrong Way Up [Opal/Warner Bros., 1990] A-
  • Nerve Net [Opal/Warner Bros., 1992] Dud
  • Vocal [Virgin, 1993] ***
  • Walking on Locusts [Hannibal, 1996] Dud
  • The Drop [Thirsty Ear, 1997] C
  • Another Day on Earth [Hannibal/Ryko, 2005] Dud
  • Everything That Happens Will Happen Today [Todomundo, 2008] Dud

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

John Cale: Vintage Violence [Columbia, 1970]
Enigmatic lyrics had better not be attached to enigmatic melodies or nobody'll bother figuring out answers. All I want to know is: is "The journey did her well" ungrammatical, or just Welsh? C+

John Cale and Terry Riley: Church of Anthrax [Columbia, 1971]
I was impressed to come upon this collaboration between Riley, whose pop avant-garde meditation, A Rainbow in Curved Air, inspired me to concoct the term "semipopular music," and Cale, whose pop avant-garde rock group, the Velvet Underground, should have done the same. Bet the people at CBS were impressed, too. So impressed they put out an album of keyboard doodles posing as improvisations. C

John Cale: The Academy in Peril [Reprise, 1972]
There must be more straightforward ways of imperiling the academy than mock-classical mock-soundtracks. Granted, this sounds jake to me, and my continental friends tell me it's excellent of its sort. But I don't much care for the continent (or the sort)--that's why I had to ask them. Rock and roll: "The Philosopher," for acoustic guitar, brass, woodwinds, and (eventually) violins over strange percussion, and "Days of Steam," which reminds me of the Ernie Kovacs theme. B

John Cale: Paris 1919 [Reprise, 1973]
In which Cale subsumes Little Feat, the academy in stasis, and other subversive elements into a form known generically (don't tell anyone) as schlock-rock. Winsome stuff it is, too--delectable melodies, dulcet singing, and such civilized rhymes as "Andalucia" and "see ya." But when you try to get past the surface pleasure of phrases like "claim you with my iron drum" and "cows that agriculture won't allow" you realize that poets who emulate Edward Lear had better be funny about it--or else stick with Delmore Schwartz. B+

Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets [Island, 1974]
The idea of this record--top of the pops from quasi-dadaist British synth wizard--may put you off, but the actuality is quite engaging in a vaguely Velvet Underground kind of way. Minimally differentiated variations on the same melody recur and recur, but it's a great melody, and not the only one, and chances are he meant it that way, as a statement, which I agree with. What's more, words take over when the music falters, and on "Cindy Tells Me" they combine for the best song ever written about middle-class feminism, a rock and roll subject if ever there was one. My major complaint is that at times the artist uses a filter that puts dust on my needle. A

John Cale: Fear [Island, 1974]
With Phil Manzanera flailing his axe like rocksy music was a thing of the future and Eno doing his best Baby Cortez imitation it sounds as if somebody just played "Sister Ray" for Cale and he thought the world of it. Manzanera's feedback extravaganza on "Gun" is a landmark of six-string aleatoric, and on "The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy" the entire ensemble comes up with the perfect sleazy-slick background rock for the glass-table scene in a porn flick. Concept: see title. A-

Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) [Island, 1975]
For all his synthesized, metronomic androidism, Eno is more humane than Bryan Ferry--his romanticism less strident, his oddness less devilish. It's nice, too, that in his arch, mellow way the man takes note of the real world from behind the overdubs. Every cut on this clear, consistent, elusive album affords distinct present pleasure. Admittedly, when they're over they're over--you don't flash on them the way you do on "Cindy Tells Me" and "Baby's on Fire." But that's just his way of being modest. A-

John Cale: Slow Dazzle [Island, 1975]
In which Cale integrates his unsingerly voice into a full-fledged rock style--kind of heavy, kind of schlocky, but done with humor and perversely appealing in its straightness. "Darling I Love You" is a tribute to his darling, "Ski Patrol" is a tribute to his ski patrol, and on "Mr. Wilson" the Velvets meet the Beach Boys for discreet, sophisticated adult enjoyment. I should also mention that the man can really scream, and (a related fact) that his version of "Heartbreak Hotel" does not make me miss Elvis. A-

Fripp & Eno: No Pussyfooting [Antilles, 1975]
Although art-rockers praise Fripp's undulating phased guitar and Eno's mood-enhancing synthesizer drones, they also complain that it all gets a little, well, monotonous after a while. That's the problem with art-rockers--they don't know much about art. I think these two twenty-minute duets, recorded more than two years ago, are the most enjoyable pop electronics since Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air, achieving their goal with admirable formal concision. What do the bored ones want? Can't have meter shifts 'cause there's no beat, can't have bad poetry because there's no vocalist, can't have fancy chord changes 'cause there's no key center. What's left is tranquility amid the machines, more visionary and more romantic than James Taylor could dream of being. Highlight: the unrestrained snake guitar on the unfortunately titled "Swastika Girls." B+

Eno: Another Green World [Island, 1976]
Although I resisted at first, I've grown to love every minute of this arty little collection of static (i.e., non-swinging) synthesizer pieces (with vocals, percussion, and guitar). Think of it as the aural equivalent of a park on the moon--oneness with nature under conditions of artificial gravity. Played in the background, all thirteen pieces merge into a pattern that tends to calm any lurking Luddite impulses; perceived individually, each takes on an organic shape of its own. Industrialism yes. A+

Fripp & Eno: Evening Star [Antilles, 1976]
This time F&E take dead aim at the hit single they so manifestly deserve by breaking their magic music into four distinct pieces on side one, but as a result I find the total effect more static--the endings are disconcertingly arbitrary, while No Pussyfooting's full sides just keep on moving. Special award for the simulated scratch that decorates "An Index of Metals"--one of the most reassuringly fallible moments ever recorded. B+

Brian Eno: 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-

John Cale: Guts [Island, 1977]
This is how Island makes up for withholding U.S. release on Helen of Troy, and I think we're better off. As a whole, Helen of Troy is sodden and stylized, and while "Pablo Picasso" and "Leaving It All Up to You" are Cale at his mad best, "Mary Lou" and "Helen of Troy" itself almost drag this compilation down. They don't, though. Cale's Island music epitomizes the cold, committed dementia of the best English rock, and side two--comprising "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend," "Gun," "Dirtyass Rock 'n' Roll," and "Heartbreak Hotel"--is a hard-sell advert for the disease. A

Brian Eno: 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-

Brian Eno: 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+

Brian Eno: 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

John Cale: Sabotage/Live [Spy/I.R.S., 1979]
"Military intelligence isn't what it used to be," Cale intones on a title cut replete with slash and yowl. "So what--human intelligence isn't what it used to be either." Speak for yourself, John. This material, based in part on Cale's recent inquiries into foreign affairs, is fairly strong in a geocynical way that's a lot newer to rock than it is to human discourse in general. But the live recording, while no doubt economical, gets more flash than slash out of Marc Aaron's guitar and not enough singing out of Cale. And "Captain Hook," the dumbest song on the record, lasts 11:26. B

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics [Editions EG, 1980]
For anybody but an expert (in what, though--anthropological minimalism?), preferences regarding, shall we say, ambient esoteric kitsch are pretty, shall we say, subjective. But I find this piece of cheese the most seductive (and best) thing Eno's put his name on since Another Green World. In addition to trumpeter, auteur, and ethnomusicological gadabout Hassell, the crucial voices belong to Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and Senegalese percussionist Aiyb Dieng, but the overall effect is Arab--heard casually at medium distance in Dakar, maybe. You could also call it head music. A

Brian Eno/David Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts [Sire, 1981]
Something fishy's going on when unassuming swell-heads like these dabblers start releasing their worktapes. As cluttered and undistinguished as the MOR fusion and prog-rock it brings to the mind's ear, this album has none of the songful sweep of Remain in Light or the austere weirdness of Jon Hassell, and the vocal overlays only intensify its feckless aura. C+

John Cale: Honi Soit [A&M, 1981]
After a mere eight months of diligent listening I've concluded that Cale's fans were right--his songwriting has regained its adroitness. And after a mere eight minutes of random thought I've concluded that I was right too--his singing hasn't. B+

Brian Eno: 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+

Brian Eno: 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

Brian Eno: 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-

Wrong Way Up [Opal/Warner Bros., 1990]
After years of big-money production jobs and new age environments, we know Eno for a middlebrow dabbler--no longer can he dazzle us with unpretentious impassivity. And if his return to song form seems too easy, well, maybe it was. Nevertheless, this sea of permutation is the followup Another Green World deserved. He's been synthesizing rhythms so long he makes them sound organic--we get not only world-beat echoes but the soul shuffle his singing is now up to. As for the other guy, he hasn't sounded so sure of his ground since he played second fiddle to Lou Reed. A-

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

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

John Cale: Walking on Locusts [Hannibal, 1996] Dud

Brian Eno: 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

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

David Byrne & Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today [Todomundo, 2008] Dud