Brian Eno Taking Tiger Mountain: Album Review

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 Producer and musician Brian Eno’s second album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), came out in 1974, a year after his first solo effort, Here Come The Warm Jets. Although Taking Tiger Mountain never charted in either the United Kingdom or the United States, it received almost universal critical acclaim upon its release and was considered one of the most compelling and enjoyable of Brian Eno’s albums, as well as a masterpiece of the art rock genre.

The full, singular sound of Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) was a natural evolution for Eno in many ways. On his second album, he continued the drone-y, dreamlike atmosphere he had established on Warm Jets, yet the songs on Tiger Mountain were more tightly compact and immediately accessible. This was largely due to the fact that Brian Eno hired a core group of five instrumentalists to work on the album and relied less on guest musicians than he had for Warm Jets. One exception to this rule was the appearance of Phil Collins, then-drummer for the band Genesis, who played drums on the track “Mother Whale Eyeless.” Collins appeared on the album when Eno called in a favor after helping Genesis produce their first album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, also released in 1974.

The music of Taking Tiger Mountain was more poppy than that of its predecessor and at times extremely upbeat, despite its dark lyrical content, which took inspiration at various points from everything from airplane crashes (“Burning Airlines Give You So Much More”) to rape (“The Great Pretender”) and infant death (“Put a Straw Under Baby”). Brian Eno was inspired to write Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) after he came across a book of postcards based on the revolutionary Chinese opera of the same name. He inserted his own parentheses when he borrowed the title for his album. Brian Eno described the album’s title as an expression of his understanding of “the dichotomy between the archaic and the progressive.”

Brian Eno Taking Tiger Mountain

Photo: By Joerundfp (commons (“own work”)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Although it spawned no singles, Taking Tiger Mountain contained many stand-out tracks. “Third Uncle,” for example, was widely recognized as being an early predecessor of punk and metal music. The menacing, sinister-sounding yet oddly beguiling track “The Great Pretender,” about a suburban housewife being raped by one of her household appliances, built on itself gradually, adding layer after layer of sound until it surrounded the listener sonically, oppressing them in the same way that the appliance oppressed the housewife. “The Fat Lady of Limbourg,” a slinky, sinuous composition that incorporated such themes as espionage and insanity, also left one feeling both captivated and unsettled. However, other tracks on the album, such as “The True Wheel,” had a uniformly bright and triumphant sound.

On Tiger Mountain, Brian Eno used his marvelous producer’s ear to include many sounds that on the face of it seemed out of place on a rock album, yet somehow Brian Eno made them work. One notable example was the typewriter solo in the middle of the track “China My China.” Another example was the string interlude in “Put a Straw Under Baby,” performed by the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an orchestra made up of amateur musicians of all ages who had no formal training in their instruments whatsoever. The grating, dissonant tones of their playing somehow seemed to complement the lulling, gentle composition of “Baby” perfectly. Another example of Brian Eno’s prowess with sound effects was the fact that early vinyl copies of the album ended with the sound of chirping crickets locked into the record’s inner grooves after the last track, “Taking Tiger Mountain,” completed its slow and sublime fade-out.

With its quirky, clever lyrics, esoteric subject matter, dreamy production and robust sound, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) has remained a rewarding and surprising album to listen to. With his second album, Brian Eno further cemented his reputation as one of the most eccentric, talented and provocative rock musicians of his time. Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) was an intriguing and wholly ear-pleasing treat.

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