BRIAN ENO: HERE COME THE WARM JETS (1973)
1) Needle In The Camel's Eye; 2) The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch; 3) Baby's On Fire; 4) Cindy Tells Me; 5) Driving Me Backwards; 6) On Some Faraway Beach; 7) Blank Frank; 8) Dead Finks Don't Talk; 9) Some Of Them Are Old; 10) Here Come The Warm Jets.
If you dissect Eno's proper debut album into its integral components and muss over each one separately, you will probably find nothing new under this particular sun. Brian's chief musical inspiration in terms of basic melody must have come from the Velvet Underground — references to the banana LP are in abundance here, and we will mention a few later on — and his use of crazy-looking and crazier-sounding electronic devices owes a lot to minimalists, Krauts, and maybe even Keith Emerson. His «affected» vocals are Marc Bolan and Tiny Tim at the same time, and his lyrics are... Captain Beefheart, perhaps? Whatever.
None of this prevents Here Come The Warm Jets from still being one of the most stunning and unusually striking debut albums in existence, because never before had there been such a brash, exciting, colorful amalgamation of catchy pop structures, weirdass studio trickery, surrealist lyrical and sonic imagery, intelligent humor, and heartfelt emotion at the same time. Above and beyond everything else, this is a pop album — it is totally accessible to those who have issues with staggering song lengths, off-putting time signatures, excessive noise, or jarring dissonance — but it is a pop album created by an experimentalist intellectual pretending to be the patient of the world's largest nuthouse. And he's got soul, too.
The busily droning three-chord guitars that usher in ʽNeedle In The Camel's Eyeʼ are exactly midway in between the Velvets' ʽI'm Waiting For The Manʼ (which had two chords, I believe) and the Ramones' ʽBlitzkrieg Bopʼ (which also had three), but the accompanying vocal melody is actually sung rather than recited — in fact, if you dig it out from under the guitars that keep it buried as if in a tightly sealed sarcophagus, it's a perfectly catchy vocal melody that would feel right at home on any Beatles album: "Those who know / They don't let it show / They just give you one long life and you go...". Hmm, sounds like something Lennon could write, too. But then there comes this gruff bass solo, and it's like the one on the Velvets' ʽSunday Morningʼ — and then it makes an unexpected couple of pit stops, like on King Crimson's ʽSchizoid Manʼ — and then we reprise and fade away with da-da harmonies — and what you just heard was a relatively simple pop song, but very bizarrely produced.
It is probably because of the loud distorted guitars that people sometimes call this a «glam» album — which it certainly is not if by «glam» we mean «epic rock theater» like Bowie's Ziggy, or even if we just mean «rock'n'roll with a really, really loud and thick guitar sound», because the latter does not crop up here too often. But really, it is just for the lack of a specific term that the word «glam» is used, because Here Come The Warm Jets stubbornly defies pigeonholization: what is ʽThe Paw Paw Negro Blowtorchʼ, for instance? Seems to be a blues-pop number with a pubroom attitude and with vaudevillian vocals — that is, right before two or three synthesizers enter the room and start chatting with each other about their casual robotic problems of the day, and it all becomes some sort of a sci-fi freak show, and by the time we get back to the vocal part, it is too late because the backing guitars have completely gone off their rocker and now sound as if somebody put 100,000 volts through them.
The album's got a great feel for dynamic shift, too — if the first song is (technically) an optimistic anthem, then the second already moves in the direction of a deranged carnival, and by the time we get to the third one, the mood has shifted to positively mean: I mean, "Baby's on fire / Better throw her in the water / Look at her laughing / Like a heifer to the slaughter" isn't exactly a reassuring view on personal relationships, and the extended solo by Robert Fripp here is much darker than his usual work, especially when it starts flashing and wobbling on the lower strings in an almost Black Sabbathy fashion. On the whole, it's a rare glimpse inside the «evil» part of Eno's mind, which he usually does not allow free access into the studio.
Then, once the evil has been properly exorcised, we get the tender heart of Eno — ʽCindy Tells Meʼ is another throwback to the Velvets, both in the lyrics ("Cindy tells me the rich girls are weeping..." — compare "Candy says I've come to hate my body...") and melody-wise (some of the chord changes are once again reminiscent of ʽSunday Morningʼ), but there is no misanthropy or reclusiveness here: Eno has a much more positive view on things than Lou Reed (I mean, even ʽBaby's On Fireʼ is more like the mock-evil grimacing of a mischievous imp than a blast of the devil's proper hellfire), and where the Velvets used their atmosphere to sing about femme fatales and Freudian matters, Eno uses it to sing about the unforeseen consequences of too much women's lib ("they're saving their labour for insane reading", "perhaps they'll re-acquire those things they've all disposed of" — disgusting male chauvinist porn fan).
The show never ceases to amaze — these are just the four first songs, and then there is the out-of-tune paranoid insanity of ʽDriving Me Backwardsʼ, the epic piano-and-synth gorgeousness of ʽOn Some Faraway Beachʼ (presaging the peaks of ambient-pop that would be reached on Another Green World and Before And After Science), the «Bo Diddley goes New Wave» hooliganry of ʽBlank Frankʼ, the McCartney-esque piano pop of ʽDead Finks Don't Talkʼ (psychedelic backwards guitars included), the choral harmonies of ʽSome Of Them Are Oldʼ, and the instrumental title track — which, as far as I'm concerned, could serve as the blueprint for a staggering amount of indie-rock creations of the 21st century, with its simple, repetitive, triumphant synth blare over propulsive tribal beats: British Sea Power and even Arcade Fire, eat your as-of-yet-unborn heart out, or at least acknowledge your debts. Not that it is all that easy to acknowledge one's debts to a song that, according to rumor, surreptitiously glorifies «golden showers», but since when has rock music been a stranger to kinky metaphors?
As you might have already guessed, Here Come The Warm Jets is quite a juicy album, but the thing I like the most about it is that it's really got a heart — some of the tracks are almost religiously beautiful (ʽFaraway Beachʼ) or inspiring (those synth blasts on the title track are pretty much welcoming you to a brand new world), or hilarious (the «chatting robots» on ʽBlowtorchʼ sound much more human to me than some actual humans from that particular era). No filler, plenty of creativity, even a touch of spontaneity (achieved by cramming tons of «incompatible», according to Eno, guest musicians in the studio), and there you go — one of the best «intelli-pop» albums ever released. It even managed to chart, very briefly, reaching #26 in the UK, a feat that no other Eno album managed to repeat (then again, Eno has never cared much for promotion campaigns, let alone touring). And it actually makes you feel great about the man's split-up with Roxy Music — which allowed for two masterpieces (this one and Roxy's Stranded) rather than one to be released the same year. In short, an exuberant thumbs up.