Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
|Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)|
|Studio album by|
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) is the second solo album by English musician Brian Eno, released in November 1974 by Island Records. Unlike his debut album Here Come the Warm Jets, which had featured sixteen musicians, this album utilized a core band of five instrumentalists – Eno himself on keyboards and guitar, guitarist Phil Manzanera, bassist Brian Turrington, drummer Freddie Smith and percussionist Robert Wyatt – and featured far fewer guests. Manzanera, who had played with Eno in Roxy Music, also participated in the writing and production. To help guide the musicians, Eno and Peter Schmidt developed instruction cards called Oblique Strategies to facilitate creativity during the recording process.
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) is a loose concept album that addresses a variety of subjects that range from espionage to the Chinese Communist revolution. The album alludes to pop-song structures, but Eno's lyrics play with themes of geopolitical intrigue. It did not chart in the United Kingdom or the United States, but it got good reviews from critics. Since its release, the album has received even more critical attention.
The album was inspired by a series of postcards depicting a Chinese revolutionary opera entitled Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Eno described his understanding of the title as referring to "the dichotomy between the archaic and the progressive. Half Taking Tiger Mountain – that Middle Ages physical feel of storming a military position – and half (By Strategy) – that very, very 20th-century mental concept of a tactical interaction of systems."
To further explore the possibilities of the studio setting, Eno and his friend Peter Schmidt developed instruction cards, called Oblique Strategies. During the recording sessions, he would allow the cards to dictate the next unconsidered action in the recording process. Describing the words on the album as an expression of "idiot glee", Eno and Schmidt eventually expanded the Oblique Strategies set to over 100 "worthwhile dilemmas", which would be used in nearly all his future recordings and productions. Schmidt also designed the album cover, which consists of four prints from an edition of fifteen hundred of his unique lithographs, as well as Polaroids of Eno, credited on the album sleeve to Lorenz Zatecky.
Manzanera spoke positively about the recording experience. He described it as:
...just doing anything we felt like doing at the time. The engineer we used, Rhett Davies, also did Diamond Head and 801 Live and Quiet Sun, so it was like family. There was a lot of experimenting and a lot of hours spent with Brian Eno, me, and Rhett in the control room doing all the things that eventually evolved into those cards, the Oblique Strategies, and it was just a lot of fun.
Eno's group on Taking Tiger Mountain included Brian Turrington and Freddie Smith of The Winkies, along with Robert Wyatt and Manzanera. Other musicians appearing on the album include Andy Mackay of Roxy Music, along with the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an orchestra in which Eno had once played clarinet. The Portsmouth Sinfonia allowed anybody to join as long as they had no experience with the instrument they would play in the orchestra. Phil Collins plays drums on "Mother Whale Eyeless" instead of Freddie Smith. After Eno had helped with production on the Genesis album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Genesis front man Peter Gabriel asked how the band could reciprocate, so Eno requested Collins play drums for him.
Music and lyrics
The sound of Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) has been described as more upbeat than Eno's previous solo album, while the lyrics have darker themes and subject matter. The album's lyrics have been described as "remarkably literate and often humorous" with "quick-fire rhymes, oddball couplets, abrupt demands and ruthless statements". To create the lyrics, Eno sang nonsense syllables to the record's backing tracks and then turned them into words. This lyric-writing method was used for all his more vocal-based recordings of the 1970s.
References to China appear in the album's songs, including "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More", "China My China" and "Taking Tiger Mountain". Steve Huey of AllMusic described the album as themes as "often inscrutable, but still playful – about espionage, the Chinese Communist revolution, and dream associations". On the political theme within the lyrics and album title, Eno explained that he is "not Maoist or anything like that; if anything I'm anti-Maoist". The album addresses several different esoteric topics. "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More" is inspired by a 1974 crash near Paris of a Turkish Airlines DC-10, one of the worst air crashes in history. "The Fat Lady of Limbourg", described by Eno as a "Burroughs-type song" about an asylum in Limbourg, Belgium, where the residents of it outnumber the population of the town. "The Great Pretender" describes the rape of a suburban housewife by a crazed machine.
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) was released in November 1974 in a gatefold sleeve. No singles were released from the album, and it failed to chart in either the United Kingdom or the United States.
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||9/10|
|The Village Voice||A−|
Like Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain received a mostly positive reception from critics. Writing for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau gave the album a rating of A–. "Every cut on this clear, consistent, elusive album affords distinct present pleasure," he said. "Admittedly, when they're over they're over—you don't flash on them the way you do on "Cindy Tells Me" and "Baby's on Fire". But that's just his way of being modest." Wayne Robbins of Creem lauded Eno for the way he "grafts seemingly disparate elements in any way that might be useful to his flow". Robbins explained, "It sounds like it might be pretentious; it's not, because Eno is comfortable with those pretensions." He concluded that "a man who can write songs like 'Burning Airlines Give You So Much More' has seen the future, and the future is a sonic Disney named Eno, who makes music you can live with". Circus magazine described the album as "Sick! Sick! Sick! But, oh-h-h, it feels so good! [...] guaranteed to be put on the 'Most Wanted' list by psychopaths everywhere [...] [Eno] takes you on a dada-ists tour-de-force, lampooning and integrating every type of music conceivable". Critic Ed Naha, writing in Crawdaddy!, gave the album a negative review, writing "Much of the Wonderlandish magic found on Eno's first LP is lost on this rocky terrain, being replaced by a dull, repetitive aura that is annoying as all hell." In 1975 Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) was voted one of the best albums of the year in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics poll for 1975.
Recent assessments of the album have been mostly positive, with AllMusic and Blender giving the album five stars, their highest ratings. AllMusic's Steve Huey compared the album to Here Come the Warm Jets, writing "not quite as enthusiastic as Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain is made accessible through Eno's mastery of pop song structure". Douglas Wolk of Blender rated it more highly than Here Come the Warm Jets, calling it "more immediately likeable". Select gave the album a four-out-of-five rating, calling it "excellent." He described the songs "Mother Whale Eyeless", "Put a Straw under Baby" and "Third Uncle" as highlights. Chris Jones of BBC Music called Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) "a work of genius because it didn't know the meaning of repetition" and "merely took Warm Jets and refined it into a smoother lump of oddness."
All tracks are written by Brian Eno, except where noted.
|1.||"Burning Airlines Give You So Much More"||3:18|
|2.||"Back in Judy's Jungle"||5:16|
|3.||"The Fat Lady of Limbourg"||5:03|
|4.||"Mother Whale Eyeless"||5:45|
|5.||"The Great Pretender"||5:11|
|1.||"Third Uncle"||Eno; arranged by Brian Turrington||4:48|
|2.||"Put a Straw under Baby"||3:25|
|3.||"The True Wheel"||Eno, Phil Manzanera||5:11|
|4.||"China My China"||4:44|
|5.||"Taking Tiger Mountain"||5:32|
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