Brian Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

Brian Eno

Recorded a year after Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) was a rock record on its surface, full of tightly crafted pop songs with a sturdy, bass-heavy footprint that evoked the mountain of the title. But it also represented another step in Eno's quest to turn music "cybernetic"; it's fair to say that he "programmed" his band in much the same way a software engineer might design an application.

Tightly-crafted pop songs with a sturdy, bass-heavy footprint

Working with the artist Peter Schmidt, Eno designed a set of cards with koan-like instructions — "From nothing to more than nothing"; "Think of the radio"; "Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics" — designed to redirect the creative process in unpredictable ways. These cards, which eventually were collected in a set entitled Oblique Strategies, deployed such cues as "If/Then" statements to send the music on its own circuitous journey through the players' hands and Eno's mixer and effects. (Some of them — like "Always give yourself credit for having more than personality" — served as a way for Eno himself to escape the rock-star mystique that he had developed as a member of Roxy Music.)

The core ensemble consisted of Eno, Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, the Winkies' Brian Turrington and Freddie Smith, and Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt on percussion and backing vocals; others, including Roxy Music's Andy Mackay, Genesis drummer Phil Collins and the radical amateur orchestra Portsmouth Sinfonia sat in. Lester Bangs wrote, "At least a decade ahead of its time, that record's rich textures, rhythms dancing against each other, and exotic synthesizer treatments of standard rock instrumentation revealed that Eno had already mastered his ultimate instrument: the recording studio." As on its predecessor, the record's sound is one of pop music unraveling, from the prepared piano of "The Great Pretender" to the rhythmic typewriters that punctuate "China My China." Slow and ominous, "The Fat Lady of Limbourg" has a rickety drum machine beat and tinny saxophones that sound almost like dub reggae; the jagged synths of "The True Wheel" anticipate new wave by five or six years. "Third Uncle," later covered by Bauhaus, is an explosion of double-time riffs that sounds somehow violently surgical — a vision of the moment, a decade hence, when punk musicians would finally learn to play their instruments, even then exacting only half the fury that Eno and company managed, and but a fraction of their precision.