Title: St. Elmo's Fire
Artist: Brian Eno
Album: Another Green World
By 1975, Brian Eno had begun his transition from glam rocker to ambient music champion. Like his classical idols and contemporaries—Erik Satie, John Cage, Terry Riley—Eno eschewed the status quo and adopted the philosophy of the minimalists and chance music pioneers. He entered the studio in 1975 with no songs written or any real idea of what he was going to produce. He employed a set of cards he co-developed, called Oblique Strategies (Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas), to stave off writer's block and guide him through the process. He was setting out to create an art project, which may or may not also be a pop album.
What I like about Another Green World is that the songs (and I'm specifically talking about the five pieces with words, not the instrumentals) embody a unique blend of Eno's past and future. On "St. Elmo's Fire," for example, the accompaniment tracks are so richly textured, bubbly synths interacting with metallic pianos and wooden percussion. Guitars that are either overdriven and sustained or frantically mimicking an electric charge. (Eno had directed guitarist Robert Fripp to play this way, presumably to reflect the natural phenomenon referenced in the title.) Ascending and descending synth flutes occupying the same space as disembodied backing vocals.
Yet, it's still a song with a basic verse-chorus structure and somewhat intriguing lyrics. So the pop musician hasn't disappeared completely from Eno's solo efforts at this point. But even the vocal melodies suggest the tape loops are coming, with the verse consisting of four identical phrases and the chorus two. The record is a unique snapshot of an artist working his way out of a cocoon and I find the transformation to be more interesting than the before or after.