Taking Tiger Mountain (again)
I never really got Brian Eno. There, I said it. Sure, I picked up some of his records years ago and played them some for a couple of months, but nothing ever really stuck. Also, the whole ambient thing kind of bemused me if I’m honest (and I’m not often). I got the Music For Airports and the Apollo sets and played them occasionally as background texture in old DJ sets but I’ve not listened to them for years. I could say that of so many things of course, but hey. Like Kurt Ralkse. Do you remember Kurt Ralske? I was reading a book the other night and there was a reference to an ultravivid dream, so of course me being me I started thinking of Ultravivid Scene. But instead of thinking ‘oh I should listen to some Ultravivid Scene’ I thought instead ‘oh I should dig out that old Crash album… that was a great record, wasn’t it?’, Crash of course being a pre-Ultravivid band that Ralkse was in. But of course too I haven’t dug the record out, couldn’t tell you if it stands up to the passage of time. Not that it matters. It’s still great in my memory and that’s all that really counts after all.

But Eno. Yes, Eno. I struggled with Eno. I still struggle with Eno. I like the idea of Eno more than the reality, and maybe that’s just fine. Maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe even Eno would applaud that point of view. Or maybe not. Not that either of us would care.

My favourite Eno record is the Bush of Ghosts set he did with David Byrne. Again, I remember that being a great record, but haven’t listened to it in years. But take my memory’s word for it. It’s a great record.

My second favourite record would be Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), mainly for the fact it has ‘The True Wheel’ and that line about looking for A Certain Ratio. I don’t expect Eno had ACR in capitals when he wrote it, but what the hell. ‘The True Wheel’ is one of the greatest Pop songs of all time, and actually a lot of Tiger Mountain is a great Pop album, only let down by the fact that I get bored after about four songs and quickly skip forward to track 8. I inevitably then stick it on repeat track for a couple of spins, then press Stop. Some records just demand that kind of response, don’t they? I hope they don’t take it personally. It’s just a part of the way Pop is, after all.

So when an email appeared in my inbox from Doug Hilsinger asking if I’d be interested in hearing his remake of Taking Tiger Mountain I said, sure, why not, and wondered if I’d have the same kind of response to it. And you know what? I did. I started off with ‘Burning Airlines Give You So Much More’ thinking, yeah, this IS a great Pop song, isn’t it? Progressed through ‘back To Judy’s Jungle’ and The Fat Lady Of Limbourg’ thinking, yeah, this is okay… Caroleen Beatty’s vocals are sweet, Doug’s backing tracks are smart, solid, sweet and sexy like they should be… but… but… and here it comes; come ‘Mother Whale Eyeless’ and the start of ‘the Great Pretender’ I’m all like, hmmm, I wonder how they’ve done ‘The True Wheel’, so skip then on to track 8, stick it on repeat a couple of times, and… well, you get the picture. (And their version of ‘the True Wheel’ is lovely, incidentally).

Eno himself was one of the first to hear the recording, and is apparently a big fan of it. Indeed there are notes from him on the inner sleeve saying just how much he likes the whole project: It makes him feel like a swan, apparently. You know, the whole ugly duckling tale and all that. It’s actually rather a touching response.

Me, though? Well, me I’m left thinking, yeah, and, and so on and so forth. If you really ‘get’ Eno maybe you will really ‘get’ this record, and whilst I kind of do, I also kind of don’t. Which, thinking about it, maybe IS the appeal of Eno after all.

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett