Brian Eno made a triumphal return to rock with layered complexity of Nerve Net

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Nerve Net, released on September 1, 1992, found Brian Eno making a long-awaited return to rock-oriented sounds — but without completely abandoning his career-confirming late 1970s-early 1980s aesthetic.

He’d long since become most at home within the soft, Stryofoam walls of a studio — improvising with the latest electronic gimmickry, but using music structures often associated with Third World countries. This is the magic of his work with both David Byrne and the Talking Heads on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and Remain in the Light. (Not to mention important assists on some of David Bowie and U2’s best stuff. And some terrific space music, which I also love. But that’s for another time.)

Along the way, Brian Eno had emerged as an almost unrecognizably complex figure for anyone who only remembered him as synth player with Roxy Music earlier in the ’70s. Nerve Net brings all of that experience to bear, offering music that was both booty-wagging and intelligent. Only Eno could so often hint at polyrhythms, and new wave, and classical music — sometimes within the span of a single track.

“What Actually Happened” is a good microcosm: Brian Eno starts with a martial beat, stirs in descending keyboards (they add a kind of synthetic doom) then, a moment later, he is tweaking and streaking the canvas with slashing notes. Another moment still, and there’s this other-worldly vocal. Even after all of this time, he was still unbound by rules.

And yet he completely understood them. Nerve Net is the kind of record where people are credited with “the mix” and, more absurdly, with “mist.” But then an extra song turns out to be the weirdest track of all, as Brian Eno can be found playing … solo piano. Gorgeous, and gorgeously simple.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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