"If you've studied the logistics
and heuristics of the mystics
you will find that their minds rarely move in a line."
Brian Eno, "Backwater"

Brian Eno is perhaps the closest thing this century has had to a musical mystic. His magical hand has touched so much of our greatest music: Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, U2, Roxy Music, David Bowie, and others. He has explored nearly every field of art, and has innovated in most of them, often progressing in leaps and bounds through the use of Oblique Strategies—demonstrating the remarkable heuristic power of human creativity.

Before and After Science, released in 1977, was an important milestone for Eno's art. Eno's first "ambient" experiment, Discreet Music, was released in 1975, and Before and After Science was the last of his pop albums. Where 1975's Another Green World alternated between instrumental experiments and pop songs, Before and After Science is made up of eight songs and only two instrumentals.

The album was originally entitled Before and After Science: Fourteen Pictures. The title referred to four watercolor prints by artist Peter Schmidt that were included with the original vinyl pressing. The four paintings were "The Road to the Crater," a sort of Ukiyo-e-style landscape of a narrow road winding across a mountain face; "Look at September, Look at October," a view presumably from the artist's desk, looking at a tree and rooftops; "The other House," another painting that gazes out a window; and "Four Years," which is a simple picture of a rather odd staircase. All four prints can be found on the website "http://music.hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno/BAASlyrics.html". The press packet for the album, which can also been seen (scanned in) at the above site, gives Eno's reason for including the four prints with the album: "I was interested to probe the possibility of creating a market for visual works which avoided the usual exclusivity (and high prices) of the gallery world. ...I envisaged a future where visual work could be sold in the same way that records are at present—for standardized prices and over a large market." Eno also describes his friend's paintings: "During the past two years Peter has restricted his work almost exculsively to water colours, that curious medium which seems to stand on the borderline between 'Sunday painting' and 'serious painting'. ...for it allows pictorial events which can be light-hearted and ephemeral and at the same time brooding and mysterious." ...emotional qualities which I think are seen in much of Eno's music.

Before and After Science has a collaborative quality that extends beyond Eno's attempts to revolutionize the art world. Its songs are performed and sometimes composed by a talented array of musicians including Phil Manzanera, Robert Fripp, Phil Collins, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and Bill MacCormick. The album was created using Eno's signiature process of studio tape manipulation, resulting in layered and complex songs that are extremely unique and experimental despite their pop format. In a style that has become more common today, the lyrics of the songs are often non-sensical and meaningless—the words' sounds are more important than their meanings.


side a

The record begins with the funky thump of No one recieving, which sounds like nothing so much as extra-terrestrial club music. Eno's vocals have an otherworldly echo about them as he croons about "these metal days," piloting a lonely starship among burning stars. Eno's synthesized percussion and Collins' drums waver in and out of electronic twinkling.

The vocal style of Backwater—somewhat off-key and echoey—is very much like No one recieving, but faster and more cheerful. Eno's words are a nonsense narrative about drifting in "deadly waters" in a "tiny canoe," and a "a meteor / That crashed on a hill in the south of Peru". The song is more stripped down than No one recieving, synth-heavy atop a quietly chugging drumbeat.

Kurt's Rejoinder is a rubbery song that bounces about like a superball, sounding like an inspiration for Aphex Twin. Its lyrics are mechanical and sound like carefully selected cut-up: the words fit the music but mean nothing at all. "Burger Bender bargain blender shine, shine, shine / And gunner burn the leader on the fuse." A vocal sample in the background is a recital of dadaist poet Kurt Schwitters' "Ursonate," performed by an unknown individual. Schwitters' "sound poetry" was an inspiration for the album's lyrical style.

Energy fools the Magician is a meandering, musique noir piece... meaning perhaps that it suggests the back-alley creeping of a morally-ambiguous flatfoot private dick. The song was featured in the Ramones movie "Rock and Roll High School," serving as the theme song for the evil hall-monitors. Appropriate, perhaps, but I can't listen to the song without thinking of their bloated, pimply visages. Oh well.

King's Lead Hat is the most energized song on the record, furiously and ecstatically driving, angular; propelled by off-beat, jangly guitar and piano. Eno's vocals are reminiscent of David Byrne of The Talking Heads, who Eno would later produce and who he namedrops in the title of the song: "King's Lead Hat" is an anagram of "Talking Heads."


side b

Here he comes is probably the most conventional song on Before and After Science, an electro ballad about a "boy who tried to vanish to the future or past." A pretty guitar solo by Phil Manzanera forms the centerpiece of the song, and Eno's vocals are very harmonious, in contrast with the earlier songs on the album. His piano playing is also quite nice.

Julie with... is a subdued, introspective song that begins with eerie electronic whispers and suggests something more sinister behind lyrics about being becalmed on a still, dark sea with a beautiful girl. All the lyrics suggest silence and stillness.

By this River is another soft, personal piece. Pianos, vocals, and Eno's CS80 are the only instruments featured.

Through Hollow Lands continues side two's serene, atmospheric tone in an instrumental that suggests a melancholy, windswept landscape.

Spider and I, is a perfect closer, a beautiful but still melancholy electronic orchestral piece with soothing lyrics. The song sounds very much like the song "Warszawa" from David Bowie's Low, which Brian Eno worked on at the same time as this album.


Liner Notes and Credits:

1    No one recieving     3. 51
Paul Rudolph : Bass and rhythm guitar
Phil Collins : Drums
Percy Jones : Fretless bass
Rhett Davies : Agong-gong and stick
Brian Eno : Voices, synthesizer, guitar, synthesized percussion, piano


2    Backwater     3.43
Paul Rudolph : Bass
Jaki Liebezeit : Drums
Brian Eno : Voices, rhythm guitar, brass, piano


3    Kurt's Rejoinder     2.53
Dave Mattacks : Drums
Percy Jones : Analogue delay bass
Shirley Williams : Brush Timbales
Kurt Schwitters : Voice (from the Ur Sonata)
Brian Eno : Voice, chorus, 'jazz' piano, synthesizer


4    Energy fools the Magician (arr. Jones/Eno)     2.05
Fred Frith : Modified guitar
Phil Collins : Drums
Percy Jones : Fretless bass
Brian Eno : Chorus, keyboards, vibes


5    King's Lead Hat     3.53
Andy Fraser : Drums
Paul Rudolph : Bass
Phil Manzanera : Rhythm guitar
Robert Fripp : Guitar Solo
Brian Eno : Voices, metallics, rhythm guitars, piano solo


6    Here he comes     5.40
Dave Mattacks : Drums
Paul Rudolph : Basses
Phil Manzanera : Guitars
Brian Eno : Voices, Yamaha CS80, moog, piano


7    Julie with...     6.20
Paul Rudolph : Bass and harmonic bass
Brian Eno : Voices, bell, mini-moog, CS80, AKS, piano, guitar


8    By this River (Eno, Roedelius, Moebius)     3.03
Achim Roedelius : Grand and electric pianos
Möbi Moebius : Bass Fender piano
Brian Eno : Voice and CS80


9    Through Hollow Lands (for Harold Budd) (arr. Frith/Eno)     3.54
Fred Frith : Cascade guitars
Bill MacCormick : Bass
Shirley Williams : Time
Brian Eno : Keyboards, bell, melody guitar, moog


10    Spider and I     4.07
Brian Turrington : Bass
Brian Eno : Voices, and keyboards, AKS synthesizer


Special thanks are due to Achim Roedelius and Möbi
Moebius ("Cluster") for their advice and encouragement
in Cologne, and to Robert Fripp and David Bowie for the
same in Berlin.
This record was recorded at Basing Street Studios, London,
with Rhett Davies and Dave Hutchins engineering, and at
Conny's Studio outside Cologne, West Germany, with
Conny Plank engineering. No noise reduction systems
were used.


Sources:

http://music.hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno/BAASlyrics.html All Music Guide: http://www.allmusic.com

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