Before and After Science is being touted as Brian Eno’s most commercial album, and with some reason: it’s a graceful, seductively melodic work, and side one even kicks off with a neat little disco riff. But this view also confuses the issue. People who think of Eno solely in terms of the static, artsy instrumentals on David Bowie’s Heroes and Low forget, or never knew, that on Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), the master of dadaist cybernetics also made some of the wittiest and most enjoyable music of our time. These records were supremely entertaining, in the best sense, and they were rock & roll. By contrast, Before and after Science is austere and restrained, an enigma in a deceptively engaging skin.
Brian Eno’s position is ambiguous almost by definition: a perfect child of science, he uses its rationalism to celebrate mystery. For him, technology is not bloodless machinery, but a wondrous instrument of delight. This delight, however muted, is still what makes Before and after Science linger so vividly in the mind. One title here may crystallize the paradox: “Energy Fools the Magician.” That seems to say it all — until you realize it says just as much the other way around.