Friday, November 20, 2020


Roxy Music transformed sound into pop-art, influencing generations of music makers. One of these artists was Steve Jones, the former Sex Pistols guitarist, who claimed that everything about Roxy Music - their sound, their dress, their packaging - was his inspiration for pursuing a career in music. In 2006, Jones wanted to do something creative - an homage, so to speak - to acknowledge this influence. With idea in hand, Jones approached Shepard Fairey and together, they formed "Swindle, Inc." and set out to execute their first collaborative effort, the "Roxy Music Print Series." Shepard's graphic mission was not so much as to rebrand it with his own interpretation (unusual for Fairey), but to simply amplify the strong, visual identity already established by the band. The result: a stunning set of large silkscreen prints, saturated with color, visual texture and the hope to inspire new fans to the sounds of Roxy Music.

Note: The preceding paragraph is meant as a transitional tool to associate Shepard Fairey with AM's current focus, Gabriel, Fripp, Roxy, Bowie, '73, '77... Crafty, huh? There’s a Zen to this, see?

If there is anybody in this world who could penetrate the very nature of SOUND itself, analyze it with a scalpel, yet leave no traces of invasive detritus upon its soul, it's Brian Eno. SOUND, btw, not MUSIC. Have you ever wondered what is the mechanism, the channel between musical notes and our ears? What does music consist of? What makes a certain sound beautiful and another ugly? Ever try to admire the beauty of JUST ONE NOTE? In our everyday life, we're used to music consisting of hurried flurries and trills, but Eno showed us that one note, if used cleverly enough, can be just as awe-inspiring as an entire complex, or catchy, melody.

Thing number one is: Brian Eno is more than an "ambient" composer. Lest we forget, Eno started out as a flashy rocker, more in the "art-glam" camp than anywhere else, then he began to experiment with sound atmospheres and synth possibilities, finally switching to full-fledged muzak-making in the late 70s. But whatever the evolution, there's one thing undeniable: Brian's mastery of the pop formula. Back when he used to write melodies, Eno did it with a flavor: be they fast, catchy, memorable, solid rock 'n' roll ditties, or heartfelt, deeply engaging ballads. What's more, he complimented that pop sensibility with a tendency to make everything sound weird, otherworldly, and completely unlike whatever anybody else was doing at the time, even Bowie or Pink Floyd. Brian was indeed a giant of [not-so] popular music.

Trying to understand Eno's take on the pop song is like comprehending the ticking of a clock or the dripping of a water faucet; the emotion that of an escalator at the mall: the proto-art-nerd pinched vocals, the ethereal Beach Boys harmonies, the mean-spirited lyrics, the noisiness.  Yet through it all there's an implicit belief in the uplifting power of pop, if only because Eno tries so hard to drag it through the mud. For whatever Dadaist reason, Eno, ater leaving Roxy, wryly and viciously deconstructed the music that he'd been creating. With the help of several members of that band, and the addition of Robert Fripp, Eno shredded the aesthetics of conventional songcraft. He didn't even play any instruments himself, acting as more of a master of ceremonies, treating the other player's contributions to a wild array of unpredictable sound processors, twisting and warping them to coax out otherworldly noises and textures. Simultaneously jagged and dreamy, the songs reverberate with Fripp's buzzing, solarized guitar slashes and Eno;s mocking vocals.

Each track of the "pop" (pre-ambient) LPs is a new experiment, particularly those of Here Come the Warm Jets. "Blank Frank" sounds like it's several dozen insects pounding away on typewriters while an unhinged keyboard see-saws back and forth over the top of Eno's deranged, stuttering-madman vocals. It has more than a hint of the Velvet Underground's manic riffing, as well. "Some Of Them Are Old" sways in the other direction, hinting at the ambient soundscapes Eno would pioneer a few years hence, drifting off with a bright, wobbly, plucked guitar arpeggio that gently morphs into the title track, "Here Come the Warm Jets" (named for the guitar treatment he'd created for Fripp, saying it sounded like a "tuned jet"). Layers of humming, luminescent  guitars ebb and flow as a simple drumbeat wafts in from the distance, holding the tension by remaining slightly out of phase until the song's climax when it dramatically syncs with the emergence of some odd, sing-songy, chanted vocals. The effect is epic and sustains itself just long enough to induce a tingling sensation before breaking apart into mist. Warm Jets is where ambient starts, the catalyst for Harold Budd, Laurie Anderson, Gary Numan and Jack White. Eno invented 3am.