I haven’t put a great deal of thought into it, but I’m quite sure that Brian Eno is the musical equivalent of a kumquat. Kumquats, for those who have no knowledge of the fruit, are similar in appearance to oranges, save for their diminutive size and sometimes oblong shape. Not only tasty treats when eaten whole, kumquats can be employed in many culinary manners, not to mention use in less customary fashions. I’ve been told the visual aesthetic of a kumquat tree makes for pleasant decorative results. Truly, they are “the little gems of the citrus family," of course ignoring the fact that they aren’t of the genus citrus
Likewise, Brian Eno resembles a true treasure of the popus musicalis
genus, despite having very little in common with most of that gene pool. His music has the same variable utility as a kumquat, equally suitable for standard consumption as it is for decorative or background sonic solutions. Up until recent times in the history of their existence, both the kumquat and Brian Eno have been somewhat exotic. Originally cultivated in Asia, the popularity of the kumquat has expounded over the decades, reaching the point where they are just as prized in western countries as in their place of origin. Similarly, the re-mastered, re-release of several Eno albums exposes a new generation to the experimental textures of Brian Eno, increasing his recognition, which was never really meager in the first place.
I don’t think Eno is orange and oblong shaped, although I could be wrong. I’ve only seen pictures.
Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy)
is the middle child of Eno albums, shoved between beloved classics, Here Come the Warm Jets
and Another Green World
. It has nothing remarkable in common with kumquats aside from a decided quirkiness that is evenly endearing and attractive. The album opener, “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More," is unashamed of this queerness and does its best to set that pace for the rest of the album. Eno’s dreamy keyboards wink at his self-described “snake guitar," which slithers along with Phil Manzanera through the track effortlessly, rejecting advances from the coyly attractive backup vocals of Robert Wyatt. However unique it is, “Burning Airlines" barely holds a candle to “Back in Judy’s Jungle" in the eccentricity department.
Waltzing like a Martian ballroom dance, “Back in Judy’s Jungle" is, at first listen, disarming, almost comedic. Bouncy rhythms poke at each other while Eno relates the conflict of perception between soldiers and their command, albeit in a sometimes nonsensical manner. The Simplistics provide the backup chants of the soldiers as they cry, “Back in Blighty, there was you/There were milkmen every morning/But these endless shiny trees, never used to be that way." Eno tracks like “Judy’s Jungle" might be a put off on the first listen, but after they settle in, they can take on an almost anthemic quality.
“The Fat Lady of Limbourg" shifts the mood quickly, returning to the noir-ish lyricism Eno establishes in “Burning Airlines." Andy Mackay’s brass section belts out the loping tones of the story while the withering synths hiss, twinkle and sway underneath the weight of Brian Turrington’s bass. “Mother Whale Eyeless" follows up, breaking into a pseudo-funky joint, an all but obvious blueprint for several new-wave cliches years before the fact. Polly Eltes’ chirping vocals are a nice change up from Eno’s blunt delivery and we even get Phil Collins’ drums in the mix.
is hard to pin down but no more so than on the next three tracks. “The Great Pretender" explores apathetic stances, housewives and trouts, all the while beating proto-industrial percussion and moaning indifference that would resurface in the mouths of folks like Ian Curtis and David J. “Third Uncle" follows, boasting the same propulsive energy of “Blank Frank" or Before and After Science
rocker, “King’s Lead Hat." As much of an iconoclast as he was then, Eno was definitely intrigued by the exploding kraut-rock movement and “Third Uncle" is as much a testimonial to that as one might find. Manzanera flails wildly on repetitive chords while the multi-directional percussive attack flings all sorts of fills through the room. The lyrics even sound and read like Damo Suzuki’s pigeon-english, barely audible over the fracas. No matter the source of inspiration, the outcome is respectably beyond awesome and imbued with Eno’s unmistakable personality.
Last of the three is “Put a Straw Under Baby," a piece of unabashed biblical whimsy, a complete turnabout from the last two tracks. What I really want to know is if the child-like vocals are Eno’s. Not sure myself. Tiger Mountain
has a habit of shifting moods song to song, but it does so with little effort. The contradictory ideas that sit right next to each other make this feat more impressive, only topped by the same marvel conducted on Here Comes the Warm Jets
Like “Back in Judy’s Jungle," “The True Wheel" does its best to be an oddity. Randi and the Pyramids join Eno with unbridled exuberance, chanting a lyric Eno culled from a dream: “We are the eight-oh-one, we are the central shaft!" My first instinct is to compare the keyboard to the John Cale of “I’m Waiting for the Man," an endless pummeling of keys, only supplemented now by whirling electronics. It goes beyond that, of course. Alls I know is the breakdown at the end of the song is probably my favorite part of the album. Maybe.
The album ends with “China My China" and the titular album closer. The guitars of the former are reminiscent of those of “Third Uncle," only toned down. Eno’s wild snake guitar whips from channel to channel, and his synths bubble up and down. Particularly great are the solos. Over typewriters played by hands who know what God gave them fingers for. It’ll all make sense, trust me.
“Taking Tiger Mountain" is perhaps, no most certainly, one of the great album closers in pop history. It’s the whipped cream on the pie, the fig in the pudding, the happy ending after the massage. As sleepy and wispy as they come, it was inspired by a Maoist opera of the same name which roughly inspired some of the themes the album presents. More than anything, "Taking Tiger Mountain" sounds like a San Francisco pier, the Pacific Ocean rushing in and out, the sun sucking itself into the sea. Except there no bums. Awful lot of bums in San Francisco.
Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy)
, like most of Brian Eno’s “conventional" albums, is an experience. It’s simply quality music made by an artist who was prescient of musical trends in more than one way. Having become acclimated to this album and its small eccentricities, I’ve come to the point where I can’t see any fault in it. And that renders me a completely useless reviewer.
1974; EG Records
2004; Virgin Music
Brian Eno (vocals, electronics, snake guitar, keyboards)
Phil Manzanera (guitar)
Brian Turrington (bass guitar)
Freddie Smith (drums)
Robert Wyatt (percussion and backing vocals)