This record changed my life. I was 15 when i first heard it, and unfamiliar with Eno's work in general. I had no idea he had been in Roxy Music. In fact i was unfamiliar with Roxy Music as well. But i was instantly transfixed by the dazzling array of new sounds i was hearing. From the opening metallic-sounding funk guitar rhythm of No One Receiving, with its simplistic two chord groove, treated vocal parts, space-evocative lyrics, military-ish snare drum pattern, and melodic synthesizer lines, i thought that it was unimaginable that this record wasn't in the Top 40, selling millions of albums. Clearly i was a little naive about how the record business works, and about artists ambitions versus rock stars ambitions.
Eno was, and is, a singularly unique and influential artist who makes records his way, or he doesn't make records. This one was, at the time, considered by fans and critics alike to be his most commercially accessible yet. After all, it does have more hooks per gallon than his previous records, including some funky song stylings -No One Receiving and Kurt's Rejoinder, a punk rock song -King's Lead Hat, a couple of lushly arranged and fairly straight forward ballads -Here He Comes and Julie With, and at least one pop song -Backwater, even if it is about a group of castaways cannibalising a person among them and then "all talking to keep the conversation alive."
Eno's commerciality, instead of being cliched and derivative, is refreshing and referential. But it is nonetheless catchy, even if it never translated in to hit singles. When Before and After Science was being created, Eno was, along with David Bowie and perhaps a few other artists, inventing a new sound in music. The groundwork was being laid for the onset of the intensely commercial New Wave, which was mostly cliched and derivative....mostly of Eno and Bowie.
As was usual with Eno records, there is all-star assortment of musicians supporting him. Many hail from progressive rock, krautrock, and art rock bands. Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine/Matching Mole) guests ingognito on a couple of tracks, credited as Shirley Williams. Percy Jones (Brand X) put down some amazing fretless bass work. Phil Collins (Brand X/Genesis), Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention), and Jaki Liebezeit (Can) perform the lion's share of the drumming, all of it stunning in quality. Fred Frith (Henry Cow), Phil Manzanara (Roxy Music), and Robert Fripp (King Crimson) are the guitar stars, among a few others including Eno himself. All of the keyboards are handled by Eno also, except on By This River, on which he collaborates with Achim Roedelius and Mobi Moebius (Cluster) to create a short, minimal, chamber music song with words.
The record has a nice flow, from the tight, dense rhythms that dominate the first side to the more dreamy, ambient aural landscapes of side two. Listening straight through takes you on a journey in sound, not necessarily by way of the lyrical content, but a musical journey where the vocals are not any more or less important than the music. By the time you get to the last track, Spider and I, with it's rising and falling synth tones reminiscent of waves on the beach, and full of a textural richness you can almost feel, you have long since arrived in a new world that Eno has created.