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Review of "The Essential Fripp and Eno"

Date Submitted: 2-Mar-94
Submitted By: Gregory Taylor (gtaylor at heurikon dot com)

Subject: The Essential Fripp and Eno [a pointer/review]

The Essential Fripp and Eno [Carol 1886-2 (U.S.)]

The Heavenly Music Corporation 20:59
Swastika Girls 18:38
Wind on Water 5:29
Evening Star 7:48
Healthy Colours I 5:36
Healthy Colours II 5:39
Healthy Colours III 5:35
Healthy Colours IV 5:35

Hot on the heels of the recent set of 20-bit remasters of a sizeable portion of Brian Eno's vocal and instrumental work, we have this new release from Virgin [out at present in Europe] and Caroline [domestic release is set for 11 March]. It's a collection drawn from the two collaborative releases that Fripp and Eno put out in the mid 70s together with some hard-or-impossible to find material from the late 70s/early 80s which has never seen the light of commercial release.

Besides the pleasure of having a nicely cleaned-up release, I think this disc is a nice balance between a reasonable and representative collection from Fripp and Eno's collaborations and a bit of rarer material to please the discriminating collector.

The artwork for the release brings Russell Mills and Bill Smith [who've done considerable design work for Eno and Fripp respectively] together for a considerably greater amount of digital collaging than I've seen them try. The packaging lacks any kind of liner notes, but is visually quite interesting.

This release contains the entire contents of the first Fripp/Eno release "No Pussyfooting" [wherein Messrs. Fripp and Eno adapt Terry Riley's signal-loop/two tape recorder technique to such advantage that nearly a generation of youthful listeners will grow up believing that Fripp and Eno invented it] from 1973, two shorter cuts from their second "Evening Star, and four versions of what was to have been their third collaborative effort. This release, like the recent Eno box sets, is a 20-bit remaster of the original material (which should please the golden-eared in our midst and provide the less aurally gifted with the vague sense that things are going well).

I kind of suspected that one might choose to include all of "No Pussyfooting" for historical reasons; it's perhaps one of the cheapest recordings made [done one evening after a bottle of wine in Eno's living room, if the story's true], and it remains oddly edgy and tentative - although it's not as comfortably thought through as the later "Evening Star", there's more of the sense of the moment about the material on "No Pussyfooting": the result of a single first-time encounter with this new system which requires that you act and bear the consequences. The timbral range of it seems at first listen to be more limited than ES, but I think that's a logical consequence of listening to Fripp and Eno grabbing noise from the ethers while this huge tape juggernaut hurtles along at the speed of life.

Although the extreme die-hard slobbering Fripp/Eno partisan might well wonder what happened to "An Index of Metals" - a 20-odd minute slab of edgy urban tritone-laced Frippertronics which suggested a greater range for Fripp and Eno's tape-loop work than the usual consonances, they will, I think, be mollified at the inclusion of the four alternate takes/mixes. It's clear from the "History of Ambient Vol. 1" release that the folks at Virgin/Caroline think that Fripp's ecstatic soloing on the edge of fedback chaos on "Evening Star" combined with Eno's judicious piano and synth deserves a place in the ambient canon; I've *always* been of that opinion [to this day, it remains as one of those pieces which, when played on my radio program, always lights up the phone lines]. TEFaE also chooses to include "Wind on Water", one of the more saturated performances that Fripp produced. Indeed, it's one of those pieces which comes at you as a kind of wall of initially undifferentiated consonance which comes apart when you pay closer attention to it [references to Seurat here, perhaps?]. It wasn't until years later when I actually *saw* Fripp do something like this live in real time that I actually realized how very simple the piece is.

"Healthy Colours [I,II,III,IV]" is a bit of drumbox-driven "Bush of Ghosts"-era Lexicon monkeying with found radio voices and what must be some of the lowest, meanest dinosaur guitar grunting that Mr. Fripp has (however sparingly: you've pretty much got to wait for take III to hear much of it) committed to aspic. These cuts have been in *extremely* limited circulation [my copy came to me in the early-mid eighties in the form of an Nth-hand dub that is vastly inferior to what's here], and the inclusion of the alternate versions also gives us a rather rare chance to hear an Eno piece in "cartoon" form and get a sense of the process of assembly/presentation.

Just a quick caveat: If your idea of Robert Fripp is King Crimson, then this may seem either as a long lead break of undeniable intensity rather than the stuff of prog-rock orthodoxy. If your idea of Eno is the foregrounded dilletante knob-twirler, you may find him to have receded into the background a bit more than your tastes may allow. No drum machines at all until the very end. I think it's a strong piece of work, and it wears well on the ears. Very well.

With every good wish,

In the desert I prayed only for mercy, not happiness, not vindication, willing to settle. No price can be too high, no cruelty excessive if the end finds cruelty exhausted and mercy audible as a hammer's sound in rain.
Gregory Taylor/email: gtaylor at heurikon dot com/voice 608-828-3385 or 608-246-9621

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