Another Green World

Not Rated

Eno's eccentric music doesn't stray beyond rock's accustomed borders so much as it innovates within those parameters. Another Green World's five vocal numbers generally represent his most conservative approaches, but its nine instrumentals are among his most radical reshapings of the genre. Together, they make perhaps the artist's most successful record.

The vocal selections could almost be outtakes from the earlier Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), although that record's dada lyrics are mostly absent here. Eno demonstrates on these cuts his striking and conventional sense of melody and rock chord structures, as well as a smooth, pleasant singing style. What separates him from the merely pedestrian is his imaginative, even queer arranging — his presentation carries more import than his original compositions. (An interesting sidelight is the album's use of fretless, fretted, pedaled, synthesized and acoustic basses.) "St. Elmo's Fire" sets a hauntingly infectious refrain amidst an exotic array of synthesizers, bass pedals and guitars (or, as Eno mysteriously characterizes them, "desert" guitars). "Everything Merges with the Night" is a clever disguise of an orthodox I-IV-V chord sequence. "Sky Saw" bridges the vocals with much of the rest of the record; it begins as an instrumental but ends with singing. There are two basses and an eerie measure from John Cale's weeping viola, but it's Eno who carries the piece. Playing alongside their not unusual chord pattern, his guitar indeed sounds like a saw — harsh, grating, raspy tones, totally unmusical if taken alone.

Such a musical adaptation of electronically generated noise, coupled with a steady rock pulse, is a foundation of Another Green World. Mechanical sound is not, of course, new to rock — feedback and synthesizers have been staples for some time. Eno's tack, however, differs by its fuller realization. It's beyond gimmickry and, to a degree, more than just experimentation. "Over Fire Island" features Phil Collins's (of Genesis) unwavering drumming while Eno darts in and out with sliding synthesizer notes and a prepared tape. A tremoloed hiss quickly comes and goes, like radio static. But this is not a perfected approach: synthetic percussion always seems like a cocktail-lounge drum machine — a frustrating, though by no means disastrous, distraction on several cuts.

The wordless pieces tend also to avoid melodies but they aren't unmelodic. Instead of tunes, they rely on broad chord washes. "Becalmed" and "Spirits Drifting" work this way, pursuing melancholic, pastel-shaded atmospheres unaccompanied by the decisive quality of a melody. Interestingly, almost all of the instrumentals ("Becalmed" is the sole exception) are shorter than the vocals — three of them last less than two minutes. The title track — it may be only a fragment — simply repeats a few short phrases which gradually gain in volume. But this shortness is more likely a concision, one possible only when there are no lyrics to prescribe any specific duration to a piece or a portion of a piece. Moreover, Eno is acutely aware of form. Although long numbers are certainly no rarity in rock, the music was weaned on two- or three-minute performances. This artist is quite comfortable with this structure and content to stay with it.

Eno insists on risks, and that they so consistently pan out is a major triumph. I usually shudder at such a description, but Another Green World is indeed an important record — and also a brilliant one.