Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) - Brian Eno

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Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) - Brian Eno

1 CD(s) - Ambient - Label: EG/Virgin - Distributor: EMI Operations/CEVA Logistics - Released: 11/04/1989 - 77778702023

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Review of "Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) - Brian Eno"

published 08/08/2004 | No_name
Member since : 09/11/2003
Reviews : 87
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Pro Eno is ever creative
Cons but not as potent as usual.
very helpful
Quality and consistency of tracks
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How does it compare to the artist's other releases

"Certain streets have certain corners..."

Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) is my last review of Eno’s 70s (near) Pop work, a form he would pretty much abandon after Before and After Science, in favour of more experimental work and explorations as pop-producer (Talking Heads, U2 etc.). His second solo album, Eno had the problematic necessity of somehow following up the brilliance of Here Come the Warm Jets, in a meaningful way.

And did he do it. To be honest no, but then Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) isn’t quite the same sort of album. It has a little more continuity, being something of a collaboration with Roxy Music (the band Eno had recently left) guitarist Phil Manzanera and as I utter ad infinitum, Manzanera cannot reach the musical heights of a Fripp or a Fred Frith. But this is not to say that Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) is in any way a bad album (I’m not convinced Eno is able to create a wholly terrible album although he came close with Nerve Net) and there are moments of delightful creativity; some of his best songs grace this album if some of my least favourite. The problem can be summed up as with his next album: Another Green World, Eno began to deconstruct and rebuild the whole alphabet of contemporary music (which would continue with his work with Bowie), which would then continue into Before and After Science. Taking Tiger Mountain doesn’t really extend his (or the) musical vernacular any further than HCTWJ and in some ways is a bit of a step backwards. With another artist this would not be questioned, but with Eno’s ever changing musical personas and effortless sonic explorations Taking Tiger Mountain becomes slightly lost. It’s difficult to think of Eno collaborating with Fripp on No Pussyfooting at a time roughly concurrent as creating Taking Tiger Mountain with Manzanera. No Pussyfooting moving into startling, if somewhat raw, ambient textures and technologies. So much so EG Records refused to release it until several years after it was recorded.

Manzanera is immediately apparent in the very opening of Burning Airlines Give You so Much More, a curious tale of air travel, spying with “Microcameras hidden in her hair,” and Eno apparently abandoned by girlfriend but that’s by the by. The lyrics, as always, bear witness to Eno’s stream of consciousness construction; effortless segues between ideas and peppered with countless non sequitors. It’s a joyful song, somehow rather low-key and driven by Eno’s witty lyrics; still it’s not as satisfying as its counterparts on HCTWJ such as Cindy Tells Me, which has the same incisive wit but seems to do so that much more musically. It’s not lazy song writing at all, nor is the production in any way lacking, though perhaps the music is a little too far in the background; this makes it sound like a hatchet job when really it is a delightful opening to the album once you accept that it is a part of Taking Tiger Mountain and not HCTWJ.

Another bizarre set of stream of consciousness lyrics grace the curiously titled Back in Judy’s Jungle. The music, especially drumming and guitar is reigned in and decidedly martial. The main tune, if one can be readily identified is whistled, as if by troops marching. None of this is surprising when considered against the lyrics:

…Fifteen was chosen because he was dumb
Seven because he was blind
I got the job because I was so mean
While somehow appearing so kind
Drifting about through the cauliflower trees
With a cauliflower ear for the birds
The Squadron assembled what senses they had
And this is the sound that they heard…

Still Eno’s vocals here are more stylised and at his most stylised is usually when Eno is at his best, such as his hysteria on the masterful Baby’s on Fire from his previous album. Also he gives the track a greater music oomph with his sliding synth that carries most of the remaining rhythm, still I find something missing, some slight variation that is never hit upon.

But all is forgiven for what must rate as a bona fide masterpiece. The Fat Lady of Limbourg is a masterpiece of low succato bass lines, deceptively simplistic percussion and occasionally distorted and always gorgeously stylised vocals. The lyrics bare witness to some of Eno’s most inspired ever

I assume you understand that we have options on your time
And will ditch you in the harbour if we must
But if it all works out nicely, you'll get the bonus you deserve
From doctors we trust.

But what really makes The Fat Lady of Limbourg is the chorus, not the lyrics but Eno’s use of Andy Mackay’s stunning simplistic and syncopated brass playing, which cuts the song up into pieces. It’s one of those moments of inspiration of song-writing and arrangement that really marks Eno out as an undeniable genius (have I overstated the point? To be honest I think that not possible!). It stands out a million or so miles, the kind of sound that makes your ears prick up and think “what is that – that is… great” and yet never for a moment does it detract from the subtle instrumentation in the background. The percussion sounds incredibly modern, almost electronically generated which of course it wasn’t, and all those other Eno flourishes, whereupon minute sounds appear, only to disappear, such as soft cymbal crashes that complement Mackay’s brass. The music is so controlled and yet so potent that it’s not hard to return to the song time and again.

I can never remember Mother Whale Eyeless though as soon as I hear it I feel my fingers tapping my legs or whatever surface is close at hand and feet itching to move. There’s something wonderfully infectious though in many ways Mother Whale Eyeless is just a Pop tune, though one can’t help but feel it’s the apotheosis of what a pop tune should be, beginning almost unassumingly, to grow in volume and creatively, with Mananera doing fine guitar work, alongside Eno’s simple yet effective keyboards and a wonderful chant like vocal mantra by Polly Eltes mid-song. It’s simply effusive and almost elusive, ultimately a song much greater than the sum of its parts and there’s no great virtuosity on display only the musical elements simply flow one into the other effortlessly and with the sort of split second timing and instinctive knowledge by is so trademark Eno.

Again The Great Pretender is a little lost to me, it’s not a song that I can remember off the top of my head but somehow absolutely original and recognisable when I hear it and if I may contradict myself slightly it does bare a moment of forward looking, as there is a hint of the electronic manipulations and minimalism of Eno’s future work. The snake guitar slightly prefigures the first track on Another Green World. Eno’s vocals are for the most part unrecognisable in terms of actual wording but beautifully realised. The music is guided by almost industrial percussion and a series of electronic manipulations and croaking. It’s a real sleeper that makes me wonder why I don’t quite ever remember it, as it is such a glaringly original piece of music. I think perhaps because it is hidden away halfway through the album and the like of which is never repeated again on the album, not that it sticks out but I think should have been followed through, explored in more greater depth later on, in different forms, which sadly it isn’t.

Brian Turrington’s fantastic bass opening (and playing throughout) is reminiscent of Pink Floyds’ double tracked bass introduction to One of These Days; Third Uncle is unusually exhilarating, an almost rocky pop entry into the album. What I think is Eno’s guitar that segues in from Turrington’s bass is fantastic, followed by even greater work by Manzanera, running is rhythms slightly reminiscent of Fripp rather than his own work, it’s a little more stilted, a little sharper, harsher and more beautiful for it and there’s a gorgeous fed-back haziness to it; Eno’s vocals are like some irresistible force and towards the end of the song the arrangement is such that guitars become supremely harsh, almost metallic runs of grinding sound that is so tense as to be almost explosive, mirroring Eno’s vocal tension. This is great music, quite fearless yet it doesn’t quite hit the heights as his work on HCTWJ. Still a breathless deep, rich sonic treat nevertheless and a worthy addition to Eno’s pop canon.

Which leads into a curiously low-key, almost pastoral affair with Put a Straw Under Baby, which is like a lullaby. The percussive rhythm sounds like someone playing a child’s glockenspiel; Eno’s synth runs are like little, twisted violins from a child’s nightmare storybook, haunting yet never hide under the bed scary. It’s a truly bizarre and in many ways wonderful slice of skewed pop that really does defy any kind of normal description as it completely departs from any musical vernacular; like a lullaby for a children’s nativity play concocted by an evil genius, for an audience in the lower regions of hell. I can say no more, really, I can’t.

Whether or not The True Wheel is better than The Fat Lady of Limbourg is grist for the mill. Certainly it’s brilliant. Art-pop at it’s most straightforward yet at its most inspired. Credit has to go to Manzanera, being co-songwriter – the only non-solo-Eno written song. Eno’s vocals are, well, stunningly potent, clear and strangely solid; authoritative. Randi and the Pyramids are credited with giving the strident backing vocals and chorus, and transcend inspired, chanting: ‘We are the 801s, we are the central shafts.” Eno seems to be singing about some secretive group searching for a mysterious something, seriously elusive and somehow stunningly brilliant lyrics that Eno’s vocals capture the right tone for, for each and every variation. Simply everything fits. There’s not a single weak link: the energy generated, the simply stunning construction, his ability to segue between sounds and musical motifs, yet the unspeakable coherence of the piece, from Eno’s opening electronics that sound like distorted kazoos (inspired, I swear) to a return to controlled, almost martial drumming as it fades out. Layers of sounds simply flow one over the other effortlessly and the solidity of the music beggars belief. There’s just no bad word that can be spoken about it, except that it finally has to end.

China My China, is perhaps a little too obviously of the album. It’s a song much in the vein of Burning Airlines Give You so Much More and Back in Judy’s Jungle. It suffers a little for coming after The True Wheel; it’s a more simple song to begin with that halfway through does suddenly disappear into distortion of percussion and Eno treated guitar, almost a in mockery of some of his former work; the distorted sections give the song a greater feeling of solidity but the opening is a little weak in comparison with his best work – it hasn’t quite the potency of his more obviously creative work. I like it, I really do, but it’s not quite up to his best; not a filler by any means but not Eno at his most inspired; though more interesting than it first appears.

Finally we find ourselves Taking Tiger Mountain, which is a far softer piece than anything that has come before it and it is quite beautiful. Manzanera’s delicately picked guitar is delightful, all the more for sounding not one wit like his usual playing. There’s a quiet melancholy at work; an exquisite sadness to the song that never approaches the maudlin or the lachrymose but is like an intricately formed piece of art. There are almost no lyrics whatsoever, and in some ways shares the same sort of format only a more low-key version of the title track from Here Come the Warm Jets. Not a great deal happens, to be honest, in comparison with much of Eno’s other work but in the simplicity lies the beauty of the piece and proof of Eno’s versatility as songwriter and musician, to be able to without warning tackle such a simple piece of music and create a work of art as beautiful as someone who’d taken years to perfect; but with such seeming effortlessness. It is perhaps the perfect way to end.

Have I been hard on Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). It’s difficult to say, it took me a long time to be able to get into it, at first I was really rather disappointed, having bought it after Warm Jets, Another Green World and Before and After Science, still with repeated listening it has grown on me though perhaps not as much as I would like. But it is definitely a listen worthy of your time for those moments of brilliance that Eno ever coaxes out of the music. So anyone interested in Eno and his contemporaries should certainly go out and listen. For those interested in Eno but who have never ventured Another Green World or Warm Jets would be a better place to start, I would have to admit.

Having just been re-issued and re-mastered it is £11.99 from Amazon though you can get it cheaper second hand, etc and still usually buy the cheaper, none re-mastered version, though it might be worth the more expensive copy for the superior sonic values, though I have only the original non-fancy-digipack version. Ho-hum.

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Comments on this review

  • denella published 09/12/2006
    Excellent review, very well written.
  • loki23 published 11/05/2006
    Sums "Tiger Mountain" up perfectly.
  • Gildor_Inglorion published 29/01/2006
    I got this on a strange whim, i want more ENO dam it, but i need money! ...... Great review !! ............... Gil
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Product Information : Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) - Brian Eno

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1 CD(s) - Ambient - Label: EG/Virgin - Distributor: EMI Operations/CEVA Logistics - Released: 11/04/1989 - 77778702023

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EAN: 77778702023


Listed on Ciao since: 08/08/2004