Overstuffed yet incomplete biography of the prolific English musician-producer-artist.
Sheppard (Elvis Costello, 2001, etc.) secured Eno’s cooperation and interviewed several of his noteworthy collaborators for this lumbering text. Beginning with Eno’s obsession with doo-wop and rock ’n’ roll as a youth in post–World War II Suffolk, the author charts the development of his aesthetic ideas as an art-school student during the ’60s (a period exhaustively covered in Michael Bracewell’s Re-Make/Re-Model, 2007). Sheppard follows the musically untutored but instinctive Eno’s rise to fame as Roxy Music’s outré synthesizer player and trails his solo career following his acrimonious expulsion from the band. The best sections cover such bracingly experimental solo albums of the ’70s as Another Green World and Before and After Science, as well as Eno’s development of environmental “ambient” compositions in Music For Airports. His work as a collaborator or producer of David Bowie, Talking Heads and Devo also gets close scrutiny. Yet for all its detail, the book is ultimately wearisome and unrewarding. Sheppard’s grandstanding polysyllabic style, still an unfortunate hallmark of the U.K. music press, frequently proves a barrier, as does his tendency to let quotations run to unparsed lengths. Moreover, the writer stops suddenly and surprisingly short, devoting nearly 400 pages to Eno’s first 40 years and a mere 50 pages to the last two decades. Later chapters manifest a growing impatience with his increasingly dilettantish pursuits as a lecturer and visual artist. Sheppard also appears to have little interest in Eno’s partnership with Daniel Lanois in producing several hugely successful albums by U2. Despite ample documentation, the author never conveys real understanding of how a musician with virtually no technical skills became a luminary in his own right and a famous, well-paid facilitator for several international superstars.
Eno’s cryptic artistry still awaits definitive deciphering.