Brian Eno, Lux. For someone who is best known as one of the foundations of ambient music, Brian Eno has cut a broad swath through the pop world. The strength of his creations is that he bows to no one, does exactly what he wants and, really, never looks back. Walking away from Roxy Music at the height of their popularity, the Englishman knew there were more interesting vistas to explore, and by God, explore them he did. In fact, Eno is still out in the woods looking for unknown sounds and outre embellishments.
Lux is Eno supremo, as he zeroes in on the music he made his greatest impact with and somehow renders it even stronger. The total gorgeousness of the album, while it never becomes simply an exercise in beauty, is astounding. Even when he veers toward the scientific, there is such a warm soul beating at the heart of it that Brian Eno comes across as a grand shaman of emotionality. Hell, it's only a single letter from "Eno" to "Emo" when you think about it.
There was a period when sounds like this were defining a brand new category of music. Even when some followers attempted to jam it into a New Age category, Eno knew better than to follow that road to nowhere. Instead, he turned backflips between genres, whether working with David Byrne, John Cale, Harold Budd or even his Irish buddies U2. For someone like him, there is only the present to consider as he lights fire to the paper walls some may put around him. Brian Eno will always have the last word, even in this entirely instrumental realm, because as an original there is no one to please but himself. Hooray.
Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos. As half of Steely Dan, Donald Fagen has sculpted a new musical style, because he and Walter Becker wrote their own rule book. Period. The irony of that achievement is that even without Becker, Fagen still sounds almost exactly like Steely Dan. This solo outing is a shining example of Danarama, right down to the irresistible mix of cool and grit. When the New Yorker takes the mic, there is no way for the sonic parameters not to be instantly recognizable.
The air around Fagen's songs reeks of Manhattan subway stations, street corner hot dog and honey peanut carts, Fifth Avenue perfume stores and chilly autumn air. If New York had an official city musician, it would be a close race between Lou Reed, Garland Jeffreys and Donald Fagen, depending on personal taste and with a three-way tie the likely end result. New songs like "Slinky Thing," "Weather in My Head" and "Out of the Ghetto" are a crackling delight, full of funky rhythms, high-stepping horns and a voice inspired by equal elements of William Burroughs and Ray Charles. There's even a nod to Al Gore here, just to show the New York Times is likely never far from Donald Fagen's ink-stained hands. This man went to college.
Now that the head-swiveling, free-swinging piano player has gotten this intriguing solo disc out, it's only a matter of time before Steely Dan regroups for yet another run at rock posterity. Let it be said that during the '70s the group was a solid glimmer of hope for rock to move on up a rung in the mid-'70s, before punk and new wave rode to the rescue. Who else was concocting such a heady mix of sophistication and street soul then? Donald Fagen still has his shoes tied tight and dark glasses on right, dipping into whatever he wants as he fashions a sound of the future which shows no signs of slowing down. There is nothing like it, and never has been. Alone or with Steely Dan, the man knows exactly where things stand.
The Rolling Stones, Charlie Is My Darling and Grrr!. In 1965, as their mega-hit song "Satisfaction" started to rule the world's airwaves, the Rolling Stones embarked on a short Irish tour. They were greeted there with utter mayhem just as the rocket-charged mix of rock and rhythm and blues was sending sonic booms throughout music circles. Youth culture was right at the beginning of changing forever, finding freedoms that could never be dreamed smack dab in the middle of the swinging '60s. The fuse was lit and it was only a matter of time before the earth exploded.
The documentary Charlie Is My Darling has been in hiding 47 years, for reasons that can only be called cosmic, and now that it's found its way to daylight fans can revel in a time capsule glimpse which rarely happens. The cameras follow the fivesome from hotel rooms as they are writing brand new songs, right onto stages that threaten to turn into free-for-alls as fans go crazy before our eyes. Leave it to the Irish to scale the walls and free the people. When the film was being made, it was wagered which Stone the camera would take to the most, and guess who won? The movie title says it all.
And as for Grrr!, the latest in a long line of Rolling Stones collections, let it be said that between the different commercial configurations, it seems almost possible to buy a version where Mick Jagger delivers it personally and stays over to vacuum the carpets and sweep the sidewalk. Seriously, how many ways can you skin this stray cat? Are all these songs the mother lode? Well, yes and no, depending on what the ear is in the mood for. A better bet for those who want a single shot of Stones fever wold be to try the American edition of the Out of Our Heads release. Included is the aforementioned "Satisfaction," along with brain-burners like "The Last Time" and "Mercy Mercy," spine-tingling soul ballads "That's How Strong My Love Is" and "Cry to Me," sharp-eyed originals "Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man" and "Play with Fire," and the band's spirit-defining cover of Sam Cooke's "Good Times" with the ultimate lyrics: "It might be one o'clock and it might be three / time don't mean that much to me / ain't felt this good since I don't know when / I might not feel this good again." That, ladies and gentleman, is the secret to the Rolling Stones. Long may they gather no moss.