A YEAR IN MUSIC: ENO – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974)

Review by: Andreas Georgi

Eno’s next album “Another Green World” is most often cited as his best and most influential, and it certainly is a great one, but “Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy” is my personal favorite. The combination of experimentation, humor, and plenty of pop hooks make this a classic, though a decidedly odd one.

Eno handles all the vocals and, while he certainly is no great singer technically (he’s referred to himself as a “non-musician), he does have a unique. mannered style that grows on you. I don’t know if you can call it a “concept” album, but there are some threads that run through the songs – travel, conspiracy, China. Each song has a unique sound texture to it, resulting from unorthodox instrumentation (one song has a typewriter solo) and Eno’s trademark and groundbreaking sound treatments. The album starts of with a very melodic pop ditty called “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More”. That incongruity sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Third Uncle”s scratchy, staccato guitars foreshadow Gang of Four and Wire, among others. The most challenging listen on the album is definitely “Put a Straw Under Baby”, which is a deranged, deliberately out-of-tune lullaby with surreal lyrics, and features the Portsmouth Sinfonia. The Sinfonia, of which Eno was a member, has only two requirements – that members honestly try to play well, and that they show up for rehearsals. You need to hear this to believe it! Quite honestly it’s a bit of an “Excedrin Moment”, but very creative. The closing title track is a pretty, airy, melodic piece that presages the ambient direction that he would take, starting with his next album (A.G.W.).

 This album was released in 1974 and was ahead of its time. Eno had a huge influence on all sorts of new wave and post-punk bands that came on the scene some years later, starting with Talking Heads. I first heard the album in the late 70’s and even then I remember how odd the album sounded. It’s a cliché, but one of Eno’s talents is his ability to “think outside the box”. In an interview David Bowie, who worked with Eno in the late 70’s on some groundbreaking albums, said they deliberately threw away the instruction manuals for the synthesizers, to see what kind of “bleeps and farts” they could come up with. Eno took (and further developed) elements from the avant-garde and applied them to pop music. Many of these innovations have since become part of the mainstream (sampling, incorporation of non-musical elements), and the electronics sounds decidedly retro now, but the creativity and quirkiness still makes it sound like nothing else. Historical significance aside, this is also a very enjoyable album. Highly recommended.

This review is also posted on Amazon here.