With the arrival of Brian Eno’s new album, Lux, on November 13, the world is reminded once more of the idiosyncratic Englishman’s mastery of ambient music. After all, it’s a concept he pretty much invented, so it’s only natural that he should have the best handle on the whole background-as-foreground thing when it comes to weaving a subtle sonic tapestry. But those who have followed Eno’s timeline further back, before he began wrapping his work in a warm, mellow glow, know that the Roxy Music co-founder hasn’t always been satisfied with making lambent mood music. Before his ambient investigations and at several points since, the irretrievably eccentric Eno has created some of the strangest sounds ever to be included under the broad “rock” umbrella. So with the luminous landscapes of Lux on the horizon, it seems like an excellent time to recall some of Eno’s oddest endeavors.
1. “Blank Frank”
When he kicked off his solo career with 1973’s Here Come the Warm Jets, Eno wasted no time getting his weird on. Probably the most musically caustic cut from his debut album, “Blank Frank” finds Eno unleashing an animalistic bray oddly anticipatory of John Lydon’s PiL-era vocals. Musically, this track represents the most sacrilegious deconstruction ever of the basic Bo Diddley beat, including a guitar break seemingly intending (and undeniably succeeding at) an imitation of a machine-gun volley.
2. “King’s Lead Hat”
Having long since foreshadowed both punk and post-punk, Eno eagerly made an early entry in the New Wave world with this quirky track from 1977’s Before and After Science. Not only is the mad-as-a-March Hare music full of odd angles, spastic lunges, and off-kilter riffs, the lunatic lyrics are an exercise in gleeful Dadaist absurdity, sporting lines like, “the passage of my life is measured out in shirts.” Bonus fact: the title is an anagram for the name of a band Eno would soon start producing.
3. “Mea Culpa” (David Byrne & Brian Eno)
In 1981, Eno and the leader of the aforementioned acronymic ensemble (Come on, you figured it out already.) joined forces on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, an album that prefigured practically every trend in electronic/dance music to come over the next decade and a half. In the process, they sourced the vocals found-sound-style, chopping up voices from non-musical contexts. Here the manic, rapid-fire reassembling of an apologetic voice on the radio, atop an eerie, dense backing with a low, droning voice underneath adding additional creepiness, makes for a downright unsettling experience.
4. “Juju Space Jazz”
When he made Nerve Net in 1992, Eno showed he hadn’t gotten all the freakiness out of his system yet. One of the prime examples was this kooky cut. While the title is actually a surprisingly apt summation of the sound, it’s also easy to imagine the cartoonish riffs, throbbing, buzzing grooves, and disembodied vocals as the soundtrack to a Matt Groening version of Dr. Who.
5. “Everybody’s Mother”
It turns out that Eno’s Nerve Net was actually issued as a stand-in for his previous album project, the oft-bootlegged but never released My Squelchy Life. It’s been alleged that the unreleased record was a more accessible outing, but you’d never know it from this Squelchy song, in which Eno recites some spooky, surreal, apocalyptic free-verse over a backing track that sounds like somebody building a tool shed in the Twilight Zone.
Lux is out November 13 on Warp.