Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15: Brian Eno, "Baby's On Fire"

Artist: Brian Eno
Song: "Baby's On Fire"
Album: Here Come The Warm Jets
Year: 1974

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Though it is used in reference to almost every performer that has ever recorded anything, the term "artist" should really be reserved for only a select few musicians who truly embody such a term.  While anyone can create sound, to properly craft it into something beautiful and thought and emotion provoking, this is the true work of the artist.  Furthermore, having some range of diversity, and making it clear that there is no fear within experimentation, one can narrow those worthy of such a title down to a small handful, and their names remain the most highly respected in all of music history.  Whether he was a frontman, side-man, producer, innovator, or any other term that could have been fitting at some point in his career, the term "artist" has rarely been more appropriate than when one refers to the pioneering and massively influential Brian Eno.  From his stint as a part of Roxy Music to his years as one of the most influential producers in history, the range of sound and style within his recorded catalog is truly second to none, and yet it is within his solo recordings that one can experience his most mind-blowing work.  Fusing together countless styles and successfully creating something entirely new, there are few words that can accurately describe his brilliant 1974 solo debut, Here Come The Warm Jets.  Filled with a completely unique blend of musical mayhem that manages to have a pop appeal, there are few songs that better capture the entire essence of Brian Eno than one can find in his unforgettable 1974 recording, "Baby's On Fire."

From the instant that "Baby's On Fire" begins, it is clear that this is a song that knows not even the most remote peer, as the assault of sound hits from every angle.  Within moments, Eno manages to build an almost unmatched amount of tension, and the spinning, almost alarm-like tone that runs throughout nearly the entire song is the key to this mood.  The way in which drummer Simon King lightly plays behind this gives the song even more tension, and it makes it feel as if the entire song could fall apart at any moment.  Bassist John Wetton pushes this mood even higher, and his dark, looming progression proves just how much power one can inject with even the most simple of progressions.  Yet the clear musical focal point of "Baby's On Fire" quickly becomes the guitar work, and this is not surprising considering that it is a dual sound courtesy of none other than Paul Rudolph and the iconic Robert Fripp.  The way in which these two tear into the center section of the song is truly as good as music gets, as they dive into an almost jazz-like solo that switches between melodic and textural patterns.  Though given the overall structure of the song, such a lengthy solo may seem out of place, it manages to work perfectly, and it stands as one of the finest guitar solos in all of recorded history.  It is the way in which Brian Eno is able to bring all of these sounds together in such stunning fashion that makes "Baby's On Fire" such a monumental achievement, and while many followed his style, none have ever come even remotely close to this work of art.

However, while many could argue that the music alone would have been enough to make "Baby's On Fire" a massive achievement in itself, the vocal work and lyrics that Brian Eno adds pushes it to a truly iconic status.  It is within his vocal performance that the true personality of Eno becomes quickly clear, as there is an unmistakable tongue-in-cheek feel to his singing.  Bringing a nasally, almost pretentious attitude, it sounds as if Eno is mocking people, and yet somehow, this manages to come off as even more intriguing than the music over which he is singing.  The way in which is voice seems to soar, yet actually stays in a very controlled state is another reason the song is so unique, and his vocal performance is another part of the song that supports the idea of complexity within simple musical approaches.  Yet it is perhaps the lyrics that he sings that make "Baby's On Fire" a true classic, and in both their content as well as in the way he delivers the words, he would have made Jonathan Swift proud.  The lyrics of the song are not in any way subtle, as Eno presents a completely ludicrous, yet scathing commentary on how the media exploits people of all ages.  Though at its core, the song revolves around the idea of a photo shoot where a baby is burning without anyone seeming to care, Eno manages to pen one of the most brilliant lyrics in history when he sings, "...they said you were hot stuff, and that's what baby's been reduced to..."  Perhaps due to the way in which he delivers the lines, the lyrics of "Baby's On Fire" are sometimes an after-thought, yet there is no question that they are just as powerful and potent as any other aspect of this amazing composition.

To put it simply: there has never been another artist that can compare to the musical vision and courage similar to that found within the recorded catalog of Brian Eno.  Working sounds ranging from ambient to glam-rock to punk to jazz, he embodies the term "artist" in its finest and most complete sense.  Though he had already made a name for himself from his work within Roxy Music, it was his 1974 solo debut, Here Come The Warm Jets, that served as almost a warning call that he was going to completely rewrite all the rules of music, finding ways to bring a pop sensibility to even the most avant recordings.  The fact that so many of these sounds can be termed as "pop," yet carry with them such a dark, almost maniacal feel is a testament to Eno's overall musical talents, and it is this aspect that keeps him completely separated from all of his peers and followers.  Showing off nearly every nuance of his musical talents, "Baby's On Fire" is a recording unlike anything else in history, as every aspect of the song is complete unique.  From the tension-filled hi-hat work to the guitar solo that manages to embody the feeling of a nervous breakdown, the tone and mood set by the song is absolutely unrivaled.  Yet if one dissects the song, it is mind-blowing to discover that outside of the solos, it never deviates from a simple, two-chord progression.  The way in which the song blends together elements of jazz, punk, electronica, glam-rock, and countless other styles proves just how uniquely amazing an artist lives within Brian Eno, and there is not another song in history that can compare to the sheer brilliance that can be experienced on his monumental 1974 recording, "Baby's On Fire."

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