It’s not the first time that surprise has been expressed on this site that Brian Eno regards himself as a non-musician, but he’s as near as, dammit. Here we have two excellent re-issues reminding us of what a creative giant he is, and how he has demonstrated this so many times, over the course of nearly fifty years. It also serves as a reminder of what a fantastic and prolific collaborator he is, going right back to 1973 and his collaboration with Robert Fripp, (No Pussyfooting), as well as work with David Byrne and his brother Roger Eno. Here he collaborated with two pioneering and well-regarded bassists responsible for their part in some of the most groundbreaking and influential albums ever made, Cale on the first two Velvet Underground albums, and Wobble as a member of Public Image Ltd. This is the first time either album has been available in a physical format for 15 years, and marks the 30th anniversary of the Wrong Way Up album and the 25th anniversary of Spinner.
John Cale was busy during this period – 1990 also saw the release of his collaboration with Lou Reed, the Andy Warhol tribute, Songs For Drella, and as it turned out, a Velvet Underground reformation was just a couple of years away. By both Cale and Eno’s standards Wrong Way Up is quite a mainstream album. That’s not to dismiss it, rather that it appears so considering some when you consider the experimental and occasionally avant/garde credentials of both, and also that it is more song-based than other occasions in their respective back catalogues. (While Cale had produced some more song-based albums more recently, Eno’s most recent song-based album was 1977’s Before And After Science.) ‘’Spinning Away’ is probably the standout track here, an utterly sublime execution featuring quietly effective guitar from Robert Ahwai. Other highlights on the record include ‘One Word’ and ‘In The Backroom.’ Despite its accessibility, it’s worth noting that successive listens do start to reveal the many layers on offer here, and that just as this reviewer found, very rewarding.
Spinner is a more reflective work than Wrong Way Up, but not wholly ambient like Eno’s seminal Music For Airports and the rest of his ambient series. At times it feels and sounds more pastoral record than you might expect, yet with an interesting counterpoint from Wobble’s dub influences. The latter do not dominate, but rather provide a different feel to the album. On the one hand, tracks like ‘Steam’ and ‘Marine Radio’ seem to notch up a gear. ‘Transmitter and Trumpet’ and ‘Left Where It Fell‘ are pieces that threaten to overflow with ideas that might descend into cacophony, yet due to their creators’ skill ultimately do not. Proof that radical ideas and the exploration of new territories do not have to result in something that is likely to alienate the bulk of (potential) listeners.
Given the albums that they have been responsible for away from these projects, they may not score as highly as some of their albums, but it’s not as if the likes of, say Another Green World, White Light/White Heat and Metal Box have had little exposure over the years, whether from historical music magazines or the more radical press. Take it as an opportunity to sample two great, if very different albums. Hopefully these two re-issues will shed more light on albums that deserve more coverage.