For listeners who have come to Brian Eno via his ambient records or his polymath reputation — which will be most anyone born after this record's release — Here Come the Warm Jets might come as a surprise. Recorded in late 1973 after his departure from Roxy Music, Eno's solo debut (not counting Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting, released around the same time) follows a herky-jerky line from Roxy Music and its follow-up, For Your Pleasure, twisting and distending strands of '50s and '60s pop into long, taut, wiry formations. With contributions from his former band-mates Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson and Andy Mackay, along with King Crimson's Robert Fripp and various members of the Canterbury progressive-rock scene, the record infuses British art-rock with a healthy dose of country blues. You can hear reminders of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and even Captain Beefheart echoing through punchy group interplay and arrangements that roll out like spooled cable, but it's all been turned slightly on its ear.
The album opens with "Needle in the Camel's Eye," a searing, serrated rave-up somewhere between the Bowie at his most aggro and the Velvet Underground's narcotic rock 'n' roll; "Here Come the Warm Jets" closes the record in a similar stream of chugging 8th notes — or it would if it weren't so strangely mixed, with a torrent of overdriven guitars gushing forth like a chorus of molten kazoos. It's tempting to read the arc between those two songs as a kind of transformative process, a teasing apart of the rules of pop music, crafting songs as catchy as any in the canon, but frayed at the edges. To do that, Eno employed the kind of free-associative writing and chance techniques that eventually came to define his process-based approach. Based in Dada-esque wordplay, the lyrics were "there just to give the voice something to do," said Eno. He also made the most of the studio, using tape effects, electronics and the surgical abilities of multi-track recording to create an oddly proportioned final product, which flickers almost holographically in its representation of some bedrock pop ideal.