BRIAN ENO: EVENING STAR (w. Robert Fripp) (1975)
1) Wind On Water; 2) Evening Star; 3) Evensong; 4) Wind On Wind; 5) An Index Of Metals.
Eno's second collaboration with King Frippson is often described as more precisely pre-planned and more explicitly artistic than No Pussyfooting, and I think it is easy to hear that even without reading anything about it — besides, even from a purely logical stance, Fripp and Eno had been working together for three years already, and what was an almost completely «experimental», «let's-press-this-button-and-see-what-happens» approach in 1973 had become an established working technique by 1975. Also, by this time Eno's «ambient fetish» was out of the closet, and it is no coincidence that the album has so many nature references — the album cover, the track titles (ʽWind On Waterʼ, ʽWind On Windʼ) — where No Pussyfooting was essentially a pure psychedelic experience, with few visible ties to the natural world.
Which all basically translates to this: although both albums are credited to «Fripp & Eno» and were recorded just several years apart, they are so different in scope and purpose that it is hard to make a useful opinion on which one's the better of the two. Evening Star, or at least its A-side, is definitely more accessible, in that both players concentrate on «prettiness» or even «beauty» as opposed to experimental «ugliness» in which they both used to delight just a short while back. You could even say that the dudes are mellowing out here — chillin', in fact, paying a technological tribute to Mother Nature, and temporarily fed up with feedback and «ugly» instrumental tones. Which may have come across as a surprise for Fripp fans, what with the harsh, aggressive King Crimson sound of the 1973-74 lineup.
The first three tracks consist of typical minimalistic Eno loops, over which Fripp applies his Frippertronics, but this time, with grace and gentleness — his soloing on the title track sounds like the approximate aural equivalent of a sweet violin part on some romantic sonata. He is much less visible on ʽWind On Waterʼ and ʽEvensongʼ, preferring to blend his parts in with the electronics, and completely absent on ʽWind On Windʼ (which is actually an unused part of Discreet Music that was originally intended to serve as a backdrop for Fripp's soloing), but that's all part of the plan — this is, after all, supposed to be an impressionist album, not a dynamic plot-based one, and most of the time, Robert is merely content to add one more layer to Eno's stately, repetitive, evocative, pantheistic melodies.
It does get very different on the second side, which returns us to the world of twenty-minute (in this case, almost thirty-minute) long compositions, and, more importantly, to the world of uneasy sonic nightmares. ʽAn Index Of Metalsʼ, in stark contrast to the lovely naturalistic soundscapes of the first side, is a mess of grim electronic hum, gradually building up in intensity until it begins sounding like a nuclear reactor just about to blow, and Fripp solos that are technically quite similar to the ones on ʽEvening Starʼ, but in a different tonality, this time, much closer to Crimsonian improvisation circa 1973, though still nowhere near as jarring and demanding on the listener. Perhaps the word «nightmare» is too strong — especially since the noisy crescendos are deliberately restrained, again, so that the tune would not have too many blatant «peaks» and «dives» — but the impression is definitely unsettling compared to the lush beauty that was unfurling here before our ears just a few minutes ago. And, well, yes, you might say that thirty minutes is pushing it a bit too far. Who knows how symbolic that is, though? Beauty is discrete and brief — ugliness is continuous and lengthy. Something like that.
Other than ʽIndexʼ being overlong, though, I really appreciate the idea of this «light / peaceful» vs. «dark / unnerving» contrast — meaning that on the whole, the album succeeds more than it fails. Maybe from an ideal point of view, both sides would have to be more symmetrical: throwing in a couple more «scary» tracks like these and reducing the length of ʽIndexʼ could have rounded out the experience to perfection. But then, symmetry like this can seem boring to some, and doesn't the very concept of «Frippertronics» somewhat defy or even mock symmetry? Anyway, an assured thumbs up for the album here, even if only for the sake of a near-perfect first side. Be sure to enjoy it in its proper setting, though. It most certainly works best when you get to play it against some natural background that looks like its front cover. You might have to move to Mars for that, though, or something.