on 26 June 2009
Good to see that Fabers have binned that pastel hued dust jacket in favour of something a little more in tune with the subject of the book.
The book is excellent up until Eno starts working with U2, whereupon it speeds up, and we race through Eno's career to the present day. The book doesn't go into much detail about Eno's projects in this period; it reads like "Eno did x, then he did y, and then spent some time doing z". As other reviewers here have noted, this may be because the author doesn't think Eno's later work is worthy of the same attention as his earlier output.
I'd have liked a bit more coverage of Eno's work in the visual arts. This is dealt with in the book, but only superficially.
To end on a positive note, I'd add that while I've followed the Enomeister's activities fairly closely over the past 30 odd years, there were plenty of things about the great man that I learnt in this book.
on 22 August 2008
Well written, very entertaining, full of gossip and a nice selection of photos. I have the feeling a lot of Eno-facts have already been aired elsewhere (like the infamous meeting of Eno with Bryan Ferry on the stairs at Elton John's Christmas party soon after he left Roxy Music). The descriptions of the first four vocal solo albums are illuminating and done largely in a track by track fashion: read how that sublime album Another Green World came togther. Eno was so prolific in the late 70s/early 80s that this book is invaluable in working out when he did what. There's plenty of insight into the relationship with Talking Heads (makes a good read) and not so much on U2 (which is also good, in a way). Tina Weymouth's take on David Byrne and Eno buddying up, to the extent of wearing similar clothes and smoking the same brand of cigarettes, is a hoot. But most people have nothing but praise for Eno, though Gavin Bryars is rather loathe to ascribe any musical talent to Eno, in no small part I'll be bound due to a question of unpaid royalties for his releases on Eno's Obscure label. An interesting side of Eno that comes out from the experience of Bryars and others is Eno's ability (perhaps unconscious) to take over a project. Thus, Bryars is instrumental in forming the Portsmouth Sinfonia, but then sees their star rise due to their involvement with Eno and the press attention that his stardom in Roxy Music brought with it, to the extent where PS end up effectively seen as Eno's latest pet project! New York avant garde trumpeter Jon Hassell also sees his ideas for making afro-centric ambient music edged out and submerged into what became Byrne and Eno's "My life in the bush of ghosts". And sometimes, Eno appears to have been downright devious, as in sorting out the writing credits for Talking Heads' Remain in Light album.
Unlike a friend of mine, who thinks Eno stopped being interesting in about 1981, I love Eno's later ambient works. But it seems that either Sheppard can't write expansively about later albums or isn't really interested enough to do so, so the last 25 years of Eno's career occupy perhaps a quarter of the book. Admittedly, it's harder to write about a sparce 60 minute solo piece like "Neroli" than AGW with its 14 tracks and multiple guest musicians. The Drop, which isn't such a bad album of juju space jazz in my books, or the Curiosities 1 and 2 collections of studio outtakes that feature "Captain" Bob Fripp, have tracks that could easily have been described in some detail, for sure. The engineer who collated the Curiosities volumes could have been tapped for insight into why certain tracks made the cut. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Eno's recent return to a vocal album, Another Day on Earth, merits a more substantial track-by-track dissection. A key omission, I think, is that there's no description for the curious of the missing tracks from the famously unreleased My Squelchy Life album. Few of those tracks have subsequently emerged through conventional channels. And why won't Eno release Seven Deadly Finns or The Lion Sleeps Tonight through iTunes? I think we should be told. There's also little of a technical nature describing Eno's approach to generative music, nor much information on his favourite synths/software/studio gear beyond the famous "Putney" VCS3 from the Roxy days. I suspect though that, like my friend, most people are interested in the Roxy days, the first four vocal albums and the collaborations with Bowie, John Cale and TH, and this book certainly delivers in those areas.
on 20 September 2009
So many music biographies so often miss the point via brevity, misplaced gushing praise, or lack of authoritative support. Not so here. This is an excellent book, clocking in at around 500 pages, and written with serious intent and obviously fully researched. Perhaps most importantly, the author had access to both the subject of his book and many of those involved, adding to the quality of the finished product.
Brian Eno's early life and influences are fully developed, as is his time with Roxy Music and his early works. Every important release, be it solo material or collaborations are fully expounded upon, giving the reader genuine insight into the working process behind these works. Perhaps as importantly, each is directly tied into what went before and what is to come; a chronology of influences.
As the pages turn, Eno's output is explained in a way that for me anyway, demystified much of his works, while at the same did not lesson the "magic" contained within them. Indeed, it would be difficult to read this book without listening to the recordings being written about and hearing them again with new ears.
Unfortunately, and preventing what otherwise could have been a 5-star book, as the years roll by, the later works are given less and less pages... rushing to the end without the detailed narrative it began with. Another minor quibble is the lack of a discography, which would have served as a valuable reference point.
All that said, there is no finer book on the life and works of Brian Eno available and those interested in understanding the who, what, when and where of this most important of recording (and visual) artists, should regard this volume as a desert island selection.
Let me lay my metaphorical cards on the table ( metaphorical as well I suppose) and state that I think Brian Eno is a genius . I've said it in other reviews of his work so I see no reason not to say it here. He has produced a body of work that is staggering in it's artistic integrity , complexity and innovation and I can tend to go into gushing fan mode when talking about the domed one. Yet for all this I know absolutely sod all about him as a person so this book is , for me , a god send. Yet that doesn't necessarily mean to say that it's any good ....thankfully though I can honestly report that while On Some Faraway Beach is occasionally over written and obsequiously flattering of it's subject it is an educational and entertaining read for any one interested in this most fascinating of artists.
Everything any budding but discerning Eno-phile could want to know is covered . For instance the younger Eno,s sexual proclivity came as something as a surprise, I don,t know why , it just did. Same for his fathering a daughter at a young age ( who he largely ignored after splitting from her mother ) .The fact he was run over by a car suffering a serious head injury or that her earns £24.50 a week royalty's for "Arena" using his track "Another Green World" for the title music. The fact he is great dancer and created his own dance called "The Static".
Most astonishing is the fact that Eno cannot read or write music ( something we have in common , that and a tendency for catastrophic hair loss) and that his improvisational approach to recording rely,s more on his instinctive grasp of sound and sonic textures. For all that he does posses genuine aptitude for thinking up innovative ways to record and manipulate sound , though as the book points out he's not above pilfering ideas that have gone before and melding them to his own ends.. The chapters on the recording of his solo albums are incredibly intriguing.
The years with Roxy Music are extensively covered as is his fall out with Bryan Ferry which led to Eno as he put it "falling on his sword" ( though it's more of an uncomfortable mutually acceptable parting of the ways) plus there's plenty of text on his relationship with cohorts John Cale, Robert Fripp , Gavin Bryars and Talking Heads amongst many others. His recording work with David Bowie ( the funniest man he knows apparently ) on "Low "and "Heroes" plus his tremendous recordings with Cluster and David Byrne are very well covered too.
The book is predisposed towards his work in the seventies and the early eighties -his most artistic fertile period and rather glances over his later production work for artists like U2 and Coldplay , though I can't say I blame the author for skimming over those associations.
So who is Brian Eno?...a complex polymath, an infuriating nerdish knob twiddler, a pioneering artistic futurist, a talkative esoteric dabbler, a renaissance leading media-genic dilettante ...frankly according to this weighty tome he's all these things and more. Yet for such a prolific , innovative and impishly erudite an artist as Eno this should come as no surprise. What is surprising reading On Some Faraway Beach is that someone decided to take on the task . David Sheppard's meticulously researched book is remarkably thorough and a boon for any Enophile. John Cale once said "I like his records, they all have Brian on them" May I add I like this book ...it has lots of Brian in it.
on 15 October 2010
Yes, a great read, with a lot of detail (often very amusing) and good contextualisation about Brian's very very productive and stimulating life after he walked out on his style-cramping wife and infant daughter to become the Stephen Fry of electronic music. His youth sounds too idyllic to be true and the period 1970-82 or so, a manic idyll. As noted by other reviewers, the momentum is lost around the mid-80s when Brian starts spending much more time as a producer, settles down more properly domestically and generally changes into an all-purpose cultural-manager/rentagob, always ready to big up whatever tat he's involved in at the time or is looking to avail himself of. Even the author concedes that Brian's much-touted avant-garde lava-lamps have never taken off, notwithstanding their inventor's frequent self-serving prophecies about the end of non-generative Art, and that a suicide pact with Martin Amis, another prominent cultural weather-vane, is probably a good career move at this point.
on 4 March 2010
David sheppard has obviously spent a lot of time and effort in researching this biography.
I found this almost impossible to put down.
While sometimes Music biogs can be a little on the dry side this was thouroughly entertaining from page one.
Eno has worked with some of the most inovative and creative musicians over the last thirty or so years, and the accounts of his collaborations with other bands and individuals really made this book for me.
Sheppards style is crisp and pacey with exceptional factual content but he admirably avoids getting to bogged down in personal or family history.
If you are an Eno or Roxy fan or just interested in this enigmatic musician then this is an absolute must read.
on 16 August 2008
Another reviewer reckons this biog is over-reverential, but i don't get that sense at all. Sheppard is clearly a big Eno fan, but he doesn't shy away from (relatively) objective documentation of his subject's very human foibles.
I hugely enjoyed this book. It's toughtfully measured in the amount of space devoted to Eno's various ventures. After all, who really wants to read 4,000 words about cheque-book productions for U2 and Coldplay? As a devoted follower of Eno's fertile collaborations with Talking Heads and Bowie I discovered plenty of fascinating insight.
Don't dismiss this as another rock journo hack. It's a fascinating, engaging, very well written and frequently funny homage. Read next to (for example) Soft Machine biog 'Out-bloody-rageous' it's streets ahead.
It's no reflection at all on Sheppard, but the unanswered question is, of course, why Eno's latter projects are so tedious when his earlier work is so transcendent.
But when you've got into the pants of as many women as Eno has, maybe you're past caring.
on 20 June 2008
If you've never read much about Eno, then you'll probably enjoy this. But if you've read, say, More Dark Than Shark, or A Year With Swollen Appendices, you might find yourself disappointed by the amount of stuff you already know. I was also disappointed by the over-reverential tone, even whan the author is describing quite appaling behaviour by Eno. Nonetheless, Eno is always worth reading about so the book isn't bad. What is bad, though, is the number of typos and innacuracies - but if you're well up on Eno already, spotting the glitches makes the read a bit more worthwhile. I'm sure the author will happily honour his mistakes as a hidden intention. Me, I paid twenty quid for it and I don't think it's worthwhile. Get the paperback, if you must.
on 9 March 2009
Couldn't agree more with the "erstwhile" comment; the repetition is a bit of a joke. Incredibly dry prose and certainly not for those who've forgotten their school French. One would hate to be stuck in a lift with this guy.
To be fair though, Sheppard's done his research and things can get quite engrossing, particulary Eno's NY period - a fascinating snapshot of the energy and inventiveness of the scene. The late 80's and 90's segment of the book seem like a hell of a rushed job, although in fairness much of the mystique was wearing thin by then. You can tell that the erstwhile Eno author shares the same opinion.
on 10 January 2014
This was bought for my son as a gift. He rates is very highly and is thoroughly enjoying the book.