This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 164 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
Brian Eno is one of a number of artists who began their journey in the 1960’s and exploded onto the stage and across the media in the 1970’s.
He was also one of a number of artists who so totally created a divergence in opinion. You hated him, or you loved him! This week I pull a Brian Eno album from the Crate
So the artist being reviewed is Eno (Brian Eno) and this is his album – Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy).
Released on vinyl in 1974 on the Island label, it has the identifying code of ILPS 9309. The album has 10 tracks.
It is a single LP in a gatefold cover and it features Eno striking many poses in a series of quirky lithographs created by Eno’s close friend, the late artist Peter Schmidt.
Schmidt and Eno would go on to release the Oblique Strategies cards, a deck of idiosyncratic instructions designed to coax artists out of creative ruts, and which played a part in the music design on this album.
There was no sleeve included with notes, so we are left 46 years later, hungry for information that could have/should have been provided.
Born Brian Peter George Eno in 1948, he has been known professionally as Brian Eno, or as is the case with this album, simply Eno.
Like many English musicians his formal training was through Art College at the Colchester Institute art school in Essex, England.
Here he took inspiration from minimalist painting. However, there happened to be a music school next door and Eno was drawn more and more to it.
Yet his “light-bulb” moment came when he attended a lecture by Pete Townshend of The Who about the use of tape machines by non-musicians.
He cites the lecture as the moment he realised he could make music even though he was not a musician at that point. In school Eno then experimented using a tape recorder as a musical instrument and then further experimented with his first lot of improvisational bands.
Now Andy Mackay, the sax and oboe player with Roxy Music, had met Brian Eno during their formal school years, and made a connection as they were both interested in experimental music.
Andy co-opted him to join the fledgling band as a technical advisor. It wasn’t long before Eno was a performing member of the group. Dexter Lloyd a classically trained timpanist, then joined the group as a drummer and they began to have some success.
That first line up of the band was: Bryan Ferry vocals/keyboards, Graham Simpson bass, Andy Mackay sax and oboe, Brian Eno synth and treatments, Roger Bunn guitar and Dexter Lloyd percussion.
They recorded a the first demo tape of the embryonic stages of the Bryan Ferry songs – The Bob (Medlay) Ladytron, Chance Meeting, 2HB and Grey Lagoons.
So it was that Eno stayed with the band from 1971 through to 1973 and he quit the band on completing the promotion tour for the band’s second album, For Your Pleasure because of disagreements with lead singer Bryan Ferry and boredom with the “rock star” life.
He then went onto a pretty decent solo career, although that didn’t stop him by any means from collaborating with a wide range of artists and groups including in later years, experimental German groups Harmonia and Can.
But he released both some very interesting and challenging albums that went from brilliant through too, the unbelievably terrible.
Such an example of the experimental that went, in my mind, terribly wrong was when in 1972, he and Robert Fripp (from King Crimson) used a tape-delay system, described as ‘Frippertronics‘, and the pair released an album in 1973 called (No Pussyfooting).
Between 1973 and 1977 he created four albums of largely electronically inflected rock and pop songs – Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World and Before and After Science, with Phil Collins playing drums.
So that brings me to this album – Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy).
In some ways it is the most commercial of his releases and that may be an aspect of it’s success.
I find it pretty damn coherent, especially when you have comments from Phil Manzanera, Eno’s former bandmate in Roxy Music, who spoke positively about the recording experience but highlighted that at the same time it was pretty much a form of organised chaos.
Manzanera described the recording of the album as:
…just doing anything we felt like doing at the time. The engineer we used, Rhett Davies, also did Diamond Head and 801 Live and Quiet Sun, so it was like family.
There was a lot of experimenting and a lot of hours spent with Brian Eno, me, and Rhett in the control room.
To further explore the possibilities of the studio setting, Eno and his friend Peter Schmidt, developed instruction cards, called Oblique Strategies, which I referred to earlier.
During recording of the album, he would allow the cards to dictate the next unconsidered action in the recording process.
There was a Chinese revolutionary opera called Taking Tiger Mountain, and on getting a series of postcards on this opera, it gave Eno the inspiration to develop out the album.
In Chinese warfare, there are two elements of the battle – the action: the storming of the enemy, and the other half, the use of – strategy!
There were no singles released from the album and it totally failed to chart anywhere although sales were consistent.
Despite that I look back at it, and listen to it with interest because it really was quite different in its overall choice of music, production and style.
It was actually pretty ground-breaking, although I must admit like many people at the time I didn’t quite see it that way.
But interestingly it has remained in my collection from the time I bought it, in 1974 and over the years I appreciated it more and more.
1. Burning Airlines Give You So Much More
2. Back In Judy’s Jungle
3. The Fat Lady Of Limbourg
4. Mother Whale Eyeless
5. The Great Pretender
1. Third Uncle
2. Put A Straw Under Baby
3. The True Wheel
4. China My China
5. Taking Tiger Mountain
- Arranged By – Brian Eno, Turrington* (tracks: B1), Phil Manzanera
- Artwork [Lithographs] – Peter Schmidt
- Bass – Brian Turrington
- Drums – Freddie Smith*
- Engineer – Rhett Davies
- Engineer [Assistant] – Robert Ash
- Guitar – Phil Manzanera
- Other [Special Aide] – Nicholas Pearson
- Other [Special Equipment] – Bill Kelsey
- Percussion, Backing Vocals – Robert Wyatt
- Photography By [Polaroid Pictures] – Lorenz Zatecky
- Producer [Assistant] – Phil Manzanera
- Producer, Vocals, Keyboards, Effects, Guitar [Snake Guitar] – Brian Eno
- Typography [Lettering] – John Bonis
- Written-By – Eno*, Manzanera* (tracks: B3)
As is my usual way, I kick off with track 1 on side 1 – The “calling card” of the Album.
Now in today’s world, which in fact is so seriously different to that of the time of Eno, some 40 years ago.
Now to name a track Burning Airlines Give You So Much More, might be considered as at the best, indelicate, and at the worst just downright incredible bad taste.
Remember, back in 1974 airline hijacking might occur on rare occasions, but never at the hands of fanatics who are now just as likely to blow the plane up. So the track kind of comes with some unfortunate baggage, that today’s state of the world imposes upon it.
It’s the first track and already there are several references to China being made. Is this simply a reflection of appropriate rhyming, or is there something that Eno is trying to tell us.
Personally while I like the track, and in a perverse way it brings a smile to my face, I can’t decode any hidden meaning – it’s just a good song.
When I got back home I found a message on the door
Sweet Regina’s gone to China cross legged on the floor
Of a burning jet that’s smoothly flying
Burning airlines give you so much more
How does she intend to live when she’s in far Cathay
I somehow can’t imagine her just planting rice all day
Maybe she will do a bit of spying
With micro cameras hidden in her hair
I guess regina’s on a plane a Newsweek on her knees
While miles below the curlews call from strangely stunted trees
The painted sage sits just as though he’s flying
Regina’s jet disturbs his wispy beard
When you reach Kyoto send a postcard if you can
And please convey my fond regards to Chihhao’s girl Yu-lan
I heard a rumor they were getting married
But someone left the papers in Japan
If you like unconventional “pop”, then this is a track for you.
I remember somewhere at sometime reading a phrase that went something like, there is no place in this universe that this track is going to be popular on the charts!
But what an amazing track it is! While Phil Manzanera plays a ghostly rhythm guitar there are haunting and lovely keyboards framing a background chorus.
Burning Airlines Give You So Much More
Track 2 – Back In Judy’s Jungle is one of those tracks where the group might be having us on, or, may be just playing something very clever.
A strange 3:3 beat and it’s a kind of a bent waltz. I suppose if I have to make a judgement I’d have to say its comedic nonsense with disarming charm!
But hey! We are talking about a guy who produced music for elevators!
Track 3 – The Fat Lady of Limbourg is seriously different in feel to track 2.
It is another very “bent” track from the guys, and I guess when we listen to works of Eno we expect this.
The track doesn’t feature Eno on vocals they are provided courtesy of Polly Eltes whose choppy vocals are a nice change up from Eno’s more deadpan blunt deliver.
Drums are courtesy of both Phil Collins and Andy McKay provides some very curious but excellent brass accompaniment.
Following the “fat lady” is a pretty non-descript track called Mother Whale Eyeless.
Sadly it is the equally longest track on the album – all six minutes. In my mind and to my ears this track is neither good or bad and I doubt that the whales would approve!
“Seriously awkward”, is my rating of it!
The Great Pretender is track 5.
Honestly, as we get further into this album it gets harder to pin it down.
The use of a rhythm machine doesn’t actually instill much pleasure but I sometimes think preconceptions get in the way of an “open-eared” listening.
Having said that, while I was reviewing it, but my wife threatened divorce when I put this track on for a second time in a row.
She said it made her feel ill!!
When is a track out of tune but not out of tune?
When it’s this track. Industrial is a good description, but so is morose!
So, we turn the album over and by this time you could begin to wonder why the album generally has good reviews – well the answer is simple.
With the exception of track 1 on side 1, the rest on side 1 are ok to . . . well I think I said, “awkward”!
Side 2? ahhh, that is a different thing.
Track 1 is Third Uncle.
This is the mother of all furious tracks and I like it!
It is surprising that it has never been used in an air guitar competition, then again, maybe it has as I don’t watch many air guitar competitions – but it would be a ripper for that!
With Phil Manzanera playing like he has just had his very first hit of coke, we find that even the repetitive lyrics work.
Consisting of 3 verses they are repeated in various combinations, and maybe printing the lyrics will help you follow them – although I don’t think they will win any literary awards for deep and meaningful moments, they are quite something.
I wonder what Eno’s psychiatrist would think if he applied the word association test?
There are tins, there was pork
There are legs, there are sharks
There was John, there are cliffs
There was mother, there’s a poker
There was you, then there was you
There are scenes, there are blues
There are boots, there are shoes
There are Turks, there are fools
They’re in lockers, they’re in schools
There in you, then there was you
Burn my fingers, burn my toes
Burn my uncle, burn his books
Burn his shoes, cook the leather
Put it on me, does it fit me
Or you? It looks tight on you
It is energy plus and demonstrates Eno’s desire to take us and give us all a good damn shake, which after most of side 1 we needed.
I guess it is best described as a full frontal assault mainly consisting of tom tom focussed drumming and what can be called “brilliant” thrash guitar (yes it does exist!).
It has been called the fore-runner of punk – that may just be right.
After a while even I begin to doubt my own reasons of why one track appeals over another.
Track 3 is Put A Straw Under Baby.
I’m going to say yet again, I like it! But now I have to try and explain why!
One interesting issue with Eno compositions is that it is hard to tell when they are allegorical, metaphorical or just a straightforward story wrapped in an enigma!
It seems as though the story behind this track could in fact be straightforward.
Consensus among those that analyse Eno’s work is that the song appears to tell of a nun burying her baby in a box to avoid shaming the convent.
What is for certain is that in his own “bizarre” way, Eno is actually providing us with a lullaby, albeit seriously ungainly and with instrument processing to make them sound like kazoos.
Once again Eno positions the track to be at complete odds with what came previously.
Now this can be unnerving, it can also be be awkward [there’s that word again], or it can be genius. Ahhhh, the element of being an enigma!
I do find the lyrics very evocative and the delivery style really is unique – I’m just not certain as to who actually sings the lead line, it just doesn’t sound like Brian Eno.
Put a straw under baby,
Your good deed for the day
Put a straw under baby,
Keep the splinters away.
Let the corridors echo,
As the dark places grow
Hear Superior’s footsteps
On the landing below.
There’s a place in the orchard
Where no-one dare go
The last one who went there
Turned into a crow.
Turned into a crow, crow,
Turned into a crow
The last one who went there
Turned into a crow.
There’s a brain in the table,
There’s a heart in the chair
And they all live in Jesus,
It’s a family affair.
Put A Straw Under Baby
Next comes the track, The True Wheel.
At first this track sounds like a probable pop song, with wisps of synthesiser blowing across the track. You need to remember synthesisers were a new instrument at this time and artists desperately wanted to feature them.
It has many elements that should/could make it a popular track, but somehow it just doesn’t work for me.
I am tempted to draw parallels with dreams, I mean with lyrics like, “We are the eight-oh-one, we are the central shaft!” – that leads to that well know question – WTF???
It has a relentless pounding rhythm and I waited before my wife went out before putting the track on and playing it loud.
This track would certainly send her into a loop of insanity!
China My China is the penultimate track and it is hard NOT to like this track.
I think when Eno is at his best, his lyrics and arrangements are brilliant, and when he is not at his best, there is no middle path, they are dreadful.
China My China speaks for itself.
Certainly it has a lot of pseudo-Chinese lyrical imagery and of course it’s pseudo as there is nothing about this album that actually reflects Chinese culture and certainly not the music.
But the track has many fascinating moments, not the least being the middle eight solo which is accompanied by someone with a lot of music skill playing . . . typewriter!
The mix is excellent with guitar whipping from channel to channel and, well listen – somehow it all works!
However, if I am going to give you an actual fourth track to listen to, it has to be the final track sharing the same name as the album, that is – Taking Tiger Mountain.
Don’t be disappointed as it starts and you suddenly realise we are not going to “rock-out” with this final track.
Not at all, in many ways it is quite introspective. A beautiful opening melody accompanied by a gentle wind.
It could be called ‘sleepy”, or it called be called “wispy”.
Remember, it was inspired by the Chinese opera by the same name – and what Eno has done is to remind us with the music, that we can take Tiger Mountain by force.
We can pound the instruments and dance into a frenzy as we did with track 1 on this side – Third Uncle.
However, we can also take Tiger Mountain by “Strategy”, deliberately, holding reserves back until needed, to suprise!
And so that is the basis for this composition.
It is incredibly deceptive in its fantastic compositional form. It is a great piano piece that is imbued with Eno eccentricity.
Yes the lyric delivery is almost deadpan, weary – but holy hell, climbing Tiger Mountain would take it out of anyone.
Taking it, or conquering it, would take a mixture of power and strategy, and after battle is done we have the right to be weary.
So it is we have a gentle piece take us out of what is, on balance, is not a brilliant album BUT is a very good album.
Taking Tiger Mountain
Finally this little gem of info.
In 1994 he was commissioned by Microsoft to come up with a 6 second piece of music for their new Windows startup sound.
It drove him to distraction, but he did it.
What is very ironic is that in later years Eno shed further light on the composition of the sound on the BBC Radio 4 show The Museum of Curiosity, admitting that he created it using a Macintosh computer, and stating “I wrote it on a Mac. I’ve never used a PC in my life; I don’t like them.
Hey Brian, that’s two of us!
I have had a love/hate relationship with much of Brian Eno’s work, but this album is good and it deserves to be in my collection and, it deserves to be featured in the crate!
Eno always pushed the music boundaries, and while sometimes they went into places that weren’t all that pleasant, this album is indeed both eminently listenable, and collectable.
Whether you have it or want it, is something there is no point in me trying to influence you over. You like this work or you dislike it – that is the story of all Brian Eno’s music.
The album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) has since been re-released In 2004 by Virgin Records in remastered digipak form.
However this original vinyl release is available and there are still new copies bringing around Au$90.00, but new re-releases are cheaper on Ebay for $35.00
On Discogs there are many copies at a wide range of prices, but the cheaper ones are either in poor condition, or the seller bulks up the freight, so if you buy via Discogs get a freight quote from the buyer.
I struggled to find decent live performances by Eno of tracks from this album. Here is what I uncovered – one track!
China My China
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier
#159. The Band – Stage Fright
#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One