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Music Review: Fripp and Eno – The Cotswold Gnomes – Unreleased Works Of Startling Genius

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You wait nearly 30 years for a new Fripp and Eno album and along come a couple at the same time. Well almost. First we had The Equatorial Stars in 2004 and now we have The Cotswold Gnomes: Unreleased Works Of Startling Genius.

Comparable to Eno’s recent Curiosities series, the new download-only release was compiled by Brian Eno and consists of a sequence of sketches, outtakes, works in progress, and alternative mixes deriving from 2005, the period of The Equatorial Stars, and as far back as 1992.

Eno once described himself as the intuitoso to Fripp’s virtuoso and this release is, in essence, an Eno eye-view of things, where Fripp’s ability is a flexible material to be processed into something that may or may not bear much resemblance to its origins.

As might be expected given their previous form, the set includes a few choice chilled-out spacey climes (including no less than three early/alternate mixes from The Equatorial Stars) and some truly beautiful though short pieces.

“Timean Sparkles” has a chiming melody evoking associations with the title track of Evening Star, whilst its augmented reprise, “Hopeful Timean,” has Fripp’s sound stripped to the bare essentials. Consisting of delicately plucked notes against one of Eno’s elusive ethereal backdrops, it’s simple but wonderfully effective — perfectly highlighting their respective strengths.

Yet for all their association with nebulous ambience, a lot here has several rough, if not downright sharp edges to it, though thankfully none quite so abrasive as the infamous "Healthy Colours" suite, which sullied 1994’s Essential Fripp & Eno package.

Fans of Fripp’s patented laser beam sound will warm to “The Idea Of Decline,” which is set against a highly filtered bedrock of dub-funk replete with glitches, short-wave radio angst, and ghostly chorales.

So far so up-tempo. However, "Cross Crisis In Lust Storm" is more beat-up than upbeat. Imagine an automated steel plant going full-tilt at 180 bpm with Fripp oiling the metallic head-banging in his most dissonant manner. It’s almost as if they said “Ah, fuck this ambient stuff — let’s rock out!”

When they recorded the piece (circa 1991/92 with Trey Gunn on Stick), Eno reckoned it to be one of Fripp’s best-ever recorded performances, a view apparently shared by the man himself. It would be a foolish person who would disagree with such informed opinions as these.

“Tripoli 2020” conjures the brooding grooves of Eno’s work with J. Peter Schwalm with Fripp’s guitar set to pan-pipe mode heavy-breathing down the spine of the skittering beat. It’s an unsettling track whose portentous nature is entirely off-set by a burst of freaky-deaky sitar guitar.

Eno’s working practices necessarily generates lots of surplus material and it’s this very variety which is both a strength and weakness of the album. If it lacks the uniformity characteristic of their previous mainstream releases, the less restrictive nature of the download medium gives them the space to provide a fascinating insight into the artistic processes and outcomes of two influential musicians at work and play.

This album is released on download only at www.dgmlive.com

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About Sid Smith

  • Harry Tuttle

    This is hardly a review, is it? This is just a promotional piece for the DGM Live website, which is selling the digital album and for which Sid Smith is the webmaster. What a blatant piece of advertising!

  • Ian

    Went to DGMlive and couldn’t find any mention of this release?

  • http://sidsmith.blogspot.com/ Sid Smith

    Hi there Ian,
    the release of the album has been delayed because of a decision to resequence the running order of the tracks. Check the website for update details.

    Hi there Harry,
    I’m not sure I’d agree with your assertion that this isn’t a review.

    Yes I’m the webmaster for DGMLive, (a fact which a couple of mouseclicks will easily reveal) and I’m also the author of King Crimson biography which has been praised for its impartiality and objectivity i.e. it is not an uncritical fanboy rant.

    One of the reasons DGM hires me is because I have an independent pair of ears. I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade.

    For the record DGM did not ask me to write this review (which I doubt they’re even aware of) nor were DGM billed for the time it took me to write it.

    So if I wasn’t being paid to write it, and I don’t receive a royalty every time someone downloads it, then what’s my motivation in writing it?

    If you go to the DGMLive website you’ll see I write all the show notes for downloadable gigs. I always provide an honest, personal assessment of the music available for download. Where the performances are dodgy I will say so. If the gig in question lacks a certain sparkle then I will report that fact.

    I believe my review of the Fripp & Eno album is a fair reflection of the music’s provenance and circumstances.

    It warns people of the sketchbook nature of the release – in case folks expect a fully fledged “complete” album – and attempts to place the release into the broader context of Fripp & Eno’s work. What else are you looking for in a review Harry?

    I also happen to like it – a fact which is also reflected in the review. If I didn’t like it then that too would be mentioned and indeed, posted here.

    By all means take issue with my writing but don’t assume you have the inside track on my motivations for writing and posting this review.

  • braincell

    There is nothing wrong with you writing a review but it should have been disclosed that you are the webmaster for DGMLive. This is common journalistic ethics.

  • http://sidsmith.blogspot.com/ Sid Smith

    Thanks Braincell, I appreciate the steer and I’ve added the DGMLive webmaster role to my bio accordingly.

  • braincell

    That is good but I would have missed that because it is in the fine print.