An Eternity of Eno?

Artvehicle 39/Review

This little diatribe below was originally intended for The Saatchi Gallery Art And Music Magazine (for whom I'm one of the staff writers) website.

It was provoked by my increasing frustration with the near automatic approval in which every word and action of Brian Eno is regarded.

Amusingly, upon submission, the piece was politely (but firmly) editorially censored.

Apparently the magazine is too closely connected to people who are closely connected to (you get the idea?) Eno. Offence might be given. Hands that feed bitten, etc.

Which is fair enough as far as it goes, but left me with the drollery of being refused permission to criticise Eno in a piece who's central question is "why does no-one ever criticise Eno ?"

Perhaps I got one step closer to finding out why. Is it partly because he is just so very, very inter-connected into the London art world (in it's entirety), that no one will type a word against him?

Personally, I don't like people becoming artistic "untouchables" in this way. It feels unhealthy. So here's the...

Issue four of The Saatchi Gallery Art And Music Magazine is now with us and very splendid it is too. With an exception; two bloody big quotes from Brian Eno.

These pearls of wisdom concern the historic role of art schools as productive of interesting musical talents, but that doesn't really matter with Brian, as he has a quote available for pretty much anything.

But why (and A&M are far from the worst offenders here) do we, the arts media, collectively keep lionising this man? Why so reverential to him and referential of him?

He's barely written a musical note worth listening to for nearly twenty years. In the days when he did make good music many of the better parts were (how to put this politely?) sourced from his collaborators.

True, he invented Ambient, which seemed like a fairly neat trick at the time.

But, consider; was it actually such a good idea? How many ambient albums do you really need in your life; how many can you listen to before you transform yourself into an inoffensive little green potted-plant? Very few.

And how very many of them there are! As countless as pebbles on a beach. They are insipid, irrelevant and their number is legion.

Brian is also much lauded for his production work. Fair do's, he did some good work for Bowie. But he also transformed Talking Heads from a spiky, exciting (albeit slightly pretentious) band into a pompous, overblown, completely undanceable pseudo-funk outfit. Meanwhile contributing some of the most meaninglessly "significant" backing vocals since the days of Prog.

"There is water under rock". Well, yeah. I guess there is. Sometimes...

Then he produced U2. I am aware that not everyone considers U2's music to be completely unredeemable. I also know that there is a small section of Hell set aside for those people, where they can discuss the "adventurous" nature of Achtung Baby for all eternity.

Nowadays our Mr. "Cultural Touch-stone" produces Coldplay and collaborates with Dido, possessor of the most boring voice in the world.

Brian is also political. Show me a young art school Anarchist and I'll show you a middle-aged Liberal waiting to happen. But the big "E's" gone one step further, he's advisor to the Liberal Democrats on "Youth Issues". Because he has "credibility with young people".

When not involved in such cutting edge activity he contents himself with being part of the same tedious, bourgeois Art Establishment that's held it's constant cultural dominance over us since the Renaissance.

This is the man we quote as our éminence grise.

I think we can do better and I think we deserve better.

So, until such time as Brian decides to do something radical again (an album of yodelling would be a start!), perhaps we could try treating him and his works with the benign neglect they so richly deserve.

Keiron Phelan

An Eternity of Eno? — Brian Eno

Brian Eno