In "Brian Eno: The Man Who Fell To Earth", a documentary covering the innovative sound sculptor's musical journey between 1971 and 1977, the average music fan gets more information per minute than in perhaps any other rock documentary. While the film itself has no actual new Brian Eno interview footage, thereby giving it a slightly unauthorized feel, the amount of musical ground covered is worth this minor annoyance.
What one quickly realizes is how truly groundbreaking Eno's career has been from the very beginning. After all, he wasn't so much a musician in the traditional sense, but more of a sound man, who did not even share the stage with the band in the early days of Roxy Music. As his influence upon the group's sound became undeniable, he soon found himself not only on the stage with the band, but bringing a completely new level of visual flamboyance that had yet to be seen, thereby influencing the likes of David Bowie long before they ever worked together.
While this writer remains by and large indifferent to the charms of Roxy Music, Eno's contribution to the band's sound was absolutely integral to their being seen as anything more than an oddly-dressed 50's revue. What he did in the early '70s by treating the band's sound with an array of synthesizer effects remains light years ahead of what any other band has done in that regard.
|Eno's weapon of choice in Roxy Music, the EMS VCS3|
Quitting Roxy after their first two albums, Eno was an immensely popular figure in British rock whose next musical move would be watched and critiqued by the world-at-large. Considering that Eno wasn't so much a musician in the traditional sense, he found himself quite unsure of what his direction should be. It was obvious that Island Records was hoping for something they could sell to the masses, but gave Eno complete control to chase inspiration wherever it may take him. The resulting album, Here Come The Warm Jets, is a work that flaunts convention at every turn without sacrificing accessibility. That Eno should not only set his mind to writing songs, but also singing lead vocals, and ultimately excel at both, is a credit to him as an artist unafraid to learn new tricks as they presented themselves.
For Roxy fans, Eno's debut was essentially a Roxy Music album sans Bryan Ferry as all other members of the band are featured throughout the ten tracks.
What we are reminded of by this documentary is that Eno, despite commercial expectations from his label, would remain undaunted in his quest for boundless musical exploration that would include the use of Oblique Strategies, a set of cards developed by him and Peter Schmidt to spur creativity in the studio that would later be mass produced.
For those of us who think we may have already been well-versed on Eno's career, the documentary sheds much light on Obscure records, the label Eno started that saw Island distributing experimental works by the likes of Gavin Bryars, John Cale, Penguin Cafe orchestra and others whose work would have never seen commercial release or public interest of that level if not for Eno lending his credibility to the cause.
Skirting convention yet again, Eno would go on to work extensively with the German collective Harmonia in 1976, although it would be decades before the results of those sessions saw proper release
Sadly, the documentary ends without going into much detail about Eno's time recording with David Bowie. Truth be told, that phase of his career deserves its own documentary and we can only hope it is forthcoming.
In the meantime, Eno solo work, as well as his landmark ambient record with King Crimson's Robert Fripp, (No Pussyfooting), begs to be further explored by those who might have written it off as tuneless experimentation. What this documentary proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that whatever challenges or limitations that have been placed in front of Eno at various times throughout his career, he never fails to create something interesting on multiple levels.
In doing so, it's impossible to not ascribe the word "genius" to both him and his music.