The first in a series of weekly posts dedicated to music launched, influenced or absorbed into the Roxy Music universe. It was a strange week – shock, to be sure. And the question: “What Actually Happened?”
Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno was coming to the end of a creative roll in the early 90s, having recently released Wrong Way Up with John Cale (91), both The Shutov Assembly and Nerve Net in 1992, and Bowie’s Berlin re-visited with U2’s Achtung Baby. His work at the time was antagonistic, highly fraught (things didn’t go well with Cale) and above all, exhaustively post-modern. Heidegger, Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault had seeped into mainstream art-rock dialog and Eno was espousing Richard Rorty and his philosophies of Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Eno was attracted to the postmodern belief that there is no worthwhile theory of truth: a single known or objectively factual narrative is seen as a construct of human intellectual and sensory experience; truth is an outcome dependent on the many possible interpretative communities that any single person can belong to. Consider the different experience of a teenager hearing the first Roxy Music album growing up in London vs. say, Nebraska.
That Eno has been a contradictory thinker throughout his career is a given, and for Nerve Net he gleeful played with expectation and roughing things up: this was hybrid funk-punk, proto-industrial, jazzy-juice music. With no objective truth to hold the center, the record refuses to play the game of Album Expectation and places everything under erasure: tracks are paranoid “What Actually Happened?” and lyrics are filled with events that may/may not have taken place (Somebody’s listening..?/Nobody near this house/Something is nothing); topics are often distasteful (a vocally distorted discussion of a rape) and the music can be downright odd and scary.
Even the album itself underwent erasure: Eno’s new record My Squelchy Life was set for release in September 1991, but as it got postponed to February 1992, Eno decided to re-edit and re-create the album into something more “cutting edge.” The result was Nerve Net.
Wire Shock is a great introduction to the album: overloaded, percussive, kicks off like concussion headache before Robert Fripp lays down one of his greatest ever solos. It’s like everything Eno and Fripp did for Bowie, but double-it. Or erase it. But don’t ignore it: Nerve Net (“Never Ten”) was years ahead of its time.
Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, Westside Studios, London April 1992 during the Nerve Net Recording Session.