Issue 67 of Continuum’s most excellent 33 1/3 series of books was originally published in 2009, but the distributors must be making a new push for some of the back issues as this one came up in the review list. Another Green World was the first Eno album I ever bought so exists in a bit of a soft spot in my collection. Knowing the greatness of the book series, I jumped at the chance.
The key to the series is that the authors are given no stylistic boundaries. Some are technical and historical treatises, others wholly personal recollections of emotive interactions with their respective album. This freedom gives the voice of the authors great weight and inevitably results in passionate outcomes, whatever path the authors choose to take.
I came to Eno like (I imagine) many people my age – through U2. Too young to have been conscious of his Roxy Music and early solo output, too old to come at him through his reconstituted retro cachÃ©, I knew of him for many years simply as U2’s producer, particularly during their creative peak from The Unforgettable Fire through to Zooropa. And, for that alone, for a great deal of time, he was a real hero of mine and I read countless interviews with him discussing his ideologies and techniques. I was later introduced to his production work for Bowie and Talking Heads, his artistic relationship with Gavin Bryars, and read his A Year diary of 1995 three or four times, all well before I actually listened to any of his own music! But it was Another Green World that I first bought on CD from a clearance shop. I’ve also since read the official biographies. All of which left me keen to read how Dayal might enlighten me, if at all.
The book could not at all be considered critical writing. It is loving and enthusiastic. In that regard, it reinforces my own feelings but, through rigorous research, gives concrete support to those feelings. For example, in discussing the changeover nature of the album (between more traditional ‘rock/pop’ and his fully fledged ‘ambient’), his vocals (which I’ve often thought the weakest point of the album), are given sense as traditional structures for him to push around, I guess like Picasso using still life as merely a structure to push around when he invented cubism. With this pointed out, I hear the lyrical content in far more surreal terms (I’d always thought of it more as quaint, probably a result of the sound of Eno’s voice rather than whatever words happened to be coming out) which further heightens the alienating/comforting dichotomy of the album. As enjoyable music writing often does for me, Dayal has got me keen to re-listen over and over to hear new nuance.
Dayal’s writing feels, to me, a lot like sitting around with a music nerd friend and intricately picking apart the glories of your favourite album in a meandering, discuss-as-you-think-of-it manner. The book has historical anecdote, which Dayal was keen to draw from sources other than already published biographies and auto-biographical books. A central chapter (all of which are named for phrases from Eno’s famous Oblique Strategies), gives a track-by-track rundown of the entire album, but this is relatively brief. There is in depth discussion of how the album relates to other work – indeed a few chapters are devoted to Discreet Music, released in the same year as Another Green World. Interviews were held with some of the players on the album (and other Eno-related albums), giving insight into the overwhelmingly playful nature that contradicts his some time image as a dry academic. Personal historical context is provided, pointing out Eno’s motivations. The best chapter, though, titled ‘”Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities”‘, highlights Dayal’s free ranging, enlightening discussion. Starting with the quality of consumer stereo equipment in the mid-70s, through Eno’s thoughts on the place of vocals, comparisons with key scenes and filming techniques in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, the balance of ‘songs’ and ‘music’, the philosophical importance of track titles, to the amount of space producers like compared to what listeners like in music (listeners are happy with much more – producers get paranoid about leaving it). All in the space of nine small pages. This meandering, echoed throughout, gives the book its intimate, conversational tone, heightening that feeling of being inspired by the music and inspired to hear it over again.
It’s an old book now, but if you’re an Eno fan and this is something you haven’t read, it covers different ground to the other major published works. If you’re not particularly an Eno fan, its tone and very readable length make it a great in point to one of his key works and, indeed, his greater body of work. As with all the titles in the 33 1/3 series that I’ve read, Dayal has produced a highly rewarding book.