His 1990 collaboration with John Cale was a welcome return to song-based music after five years without a new record but the album was uneven. It included a few true gems like Lay My Love and Spinning Away but also weaker material like Been There Done That. The rest was somewhere in between. Though I played it a lot when it came out, I have rarely listened to it in the last 20 years.
His few records from the 90s were generally big departures from what he had done before. Eno was never one to repeat himself even though he recycled material all the time. So now these four albums have been reissued with a ton of bonus material. Is it time to reassess this much-maligned period for Eno? Here’s are my thoughts:
Nerve Net (9.5/10) – I still love the original album and having the entire scrapped My Squelchy Life together is a huge bonus. I think a lot of people will like My Squelchy Life more than Nerve Net and it makes me wonder what would have happened if it had been released. The bonus album begins with two “pop songs,” I Fall Up (which has been around) and The Harness. Then comes the weird middle stuff with Juju Space Jazz and My Squelchy Life in slightly different mixed and the interesting Tutti Forgetti. The song Under resurfaces in 2005 on Another Day on Earth. Great original album and great bonus album.
Shutov Assembly (9/10) – I have always liked this oddball album but its atonality was hard for many to get into. The bonus tracks really help understand the decade between Thursday Afternoon and The Drop. Of the bonus tracks, Only the short Prague sounds as though it could have been on the original release. The first two bonus tracks sound like updated Low era Eno with Eastern Cities reworking Warzawa. Then Big Slow Arabs, Storm and Rendition. The last bonus track is an extended version of Alhondiga. I like the bonus material a lot but I tend to be a purist and like to hear the album as intended. My guess is I will listen to the bonus material separate from the album.
Neroli (6.5/10) Of all the ambient records, Neroli is the one that always fades into the background for me. I do play this occasionally as true background music. The hour-long bonus track New Space Music (what an awful title) fits into the sound world of Discreet Music though richer in tone due to more modern equipment. It is also rather forgettable so it is a good addition. I can see playing this when I want some sounds that I won’t really pay attention to.
The Drop (7/10) My original take on this album was that Eno was just noodling around on a Casio. He has said that this is unwelcome jazz because everyone he played it for didn’t like it. I’d give the original album a 6 but there is some nice bonus material, especially the Targa and the shorter Targa Summer.
Well my opinions of these albums hasn’t changed much in 20 years and judging by Pitchfork’s negative reviews, perhaps no one else’s will either.