1995 was a very busy year for Brian Eno. He collaborated with U2 on the one and only Passengers album, he produced David Bowie’s Outside CD, he spearheaded the Help! benefit album for the War Child charity and he released a book which features diary entries covering his participation in all of these projects.
Also mentioned in A Year With Swollen Appendices, the aforementioned publication, is Spinner, yet another musical undertaking from that year. In 1994, Eno had composed an instrumental musical score for the late Derek Jarman’s final movie, Glitterbug, but it never got a separate release as a commercially available soundtrack. (Eno believed that “a lot of [the music] didn’t make much sense without the film”, which went mostly unseen in North America.) So, instead, he sent his entire score to Jah Wobble, the former Public Image Ltd. bassist, to see what he could do with the material.
The result was Spinner, a CD I reviewed while still a college student in the fall of 1995. At the time I was in my third and final year of the TV Broadcasting program at Mohawk College. By this point, I stopped evaluating the latest movies for The Satellite, Mohawk’s student newspaper, and focused entirely on music. As you’re about to read, I wasn’t a big fan of this record. I gave it two stars out of five. I wonder if I’d feel the same way today if I heard it again.
Published on page 11 of the November 14th, 1995 edition, it was one of the more difficult assessments to write. Then-Entertainment Editor Corey Martin really liked the approach I ultimately took, especially the opening, which I appreciated. I don’t remember him changing too much of my original submission (he also enjoyed my succinct dismissal of the album as “Casio keyboard drivel”), always a sign of confidence in one’s writing whether deserved or not.
A couple of things to point out. At the time, I was unfamiliar with Jah Wobble and his work with PiL, hence my sad ignorance of his notoriety in music. (Curiously, I mostly blamed Eno for the artistic failure of the record instead of spreading it out more evenly which would’ve been more fair.) Surely, a little research on my part would’ve prevented that from happening. Oh well. Finally, Ryan Ferguson was the then-music director for Mohawk’s radio station (I was a volunteer DJ), then just a Cable FM outlet, who wisely noted beforehand that I wouldn’t get Spinner because I’ve never been a big ambient guy. At some point after either the review was submitted or published, I foolishly sold my free Satellite copy to him for 5 bucks, which was odd because, as I recall, he already had a copy. At any rate, I’ve always regretted it because I actually need the album for a separate project of my own that may or may not ever happen.
Nevertheless, here’s my original review, regrettable flaws and all:
Special To The Satellite
When I critique music CDs, generally, I look for certain things in order to come up with a positive, negative or mixed review. (A mixed review means you can’t decide whether you like the disc or not; you’re in the middle, in other words.) For instance, I examine the music.
Questions arise like: is the material made up of original compositions or covers? Is it good, great, so-so, lousy or godawful crud? Is this a good formula disc or something flat-out original? Any innovations? Anything recycled? What about the instrumentation? The sound quality? The vocals?
You get the idea. The questions keep piling on and on until I reach an opinion. This whole process is similiar to that of an essay outline. Only I don’t write down my views. I store them in my dream maker.
And the questions change depending upon the disc, the artist(s) and the genre. When I gave the new Brian Eno/Jah Wobble CD a couple of spins this past week, I had to throw out my whole critical process and rely entirely on an emotional response. Spinner is an instrumental album that, at one time, was intended to be used as the accompanying soundtrack to director Derek Jarman’s final film, Glitterbug. (Jarman died in 1994 of AIDS and never saw the completed film, which is available on home video. No, I haven’t seen it.)
Instead of scrapping the project altogether, Eno sent his digital demos to Jah Wobble (I never heard of him, either), who tinkered with some of the selections and left others alone. The result is this album.
And how is it? Not very entertaining, I’d say. And that’s the best description I can give you. I felt nothing for the majority of the album. The music is very slow-paced, very moody and not very atmospheric. (The word airy comes to mind.) But it’s not a good “high-rotation” album. I could only stand to listen to it a couple of times.
It should be advised that this is not a pop album. Nor is it a rock and roll album. It is an alternative album in every sense of the word. It blurps, it beeps, it moans, it drones, and goes on and on and on until you sit there squinting your eyes wondering why you even bothered scooping this up from the Satellite office. It’s that warped, kids.
For those of you who are not familiar with Eno and his past collaborations and solo work, this album definitely won’t make you an instant fan. Eno, who has had more success producing albums by U2, David Bowie and James, isn’t really concerned with making this material fresh and exciting or moving, for that matter. He’d rather punish the listener into submission by making him suffer with this experimental, Casio keyboard drivel.
Perhaps drivel is too strong of a noun. Ca-ca is more like it. Okay, this isn’t an awful album. It’s merely so-so. And I did like 3 of the selections (including a hidden track that you’ll find on track 10; skip past the last song until you have 8 minutes and 40 seconds left on your counter; then, you’ll hear that entertaining bonus cut; no, I don’t know what it’s called).
If you enjoyed James’ 1994 album, Wah Wah (I didn’t), you’ll certainly enjoy this disc. But I’m not recommending it. Ryan Ferguson was right. I didn’t like Spinner.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, January 1, 2013