Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. The magnitude of that name, with its flagship bookends. Brian. Eno. Signifiers of genius. Symbols of innovation. Suggestions of brilliance. The man is a legend. Attach his name to a body of music and it becomes history to which everything that follows will be compared. But forget what the name Brian Eno represents. The music is what matters.
Music for Films, Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks and Thursday Afternoon make up the third installment in the Eno reissues released on Astralwerks. (The set also includes More Music for Films, which compiles tracks from the Music for Films: Director’s Edition promo with Music for Films Volume 2, but we’re just looking here at the albums that appear as they originally existed.) The first batch was Eno’s dazzling pop works from his early solo career in the mid-seventies. The second set highlighted his transformation into an ambient composer with such landmark releases as Discreet Music (1975) and Music for Airports (1978). This third set of reissues is classified as Eno’s soundtracks, all intended to accompany films.
The songs on 1978’s Music for Films are collected from two to three years of film-accompaniment work. Most of the songs run less than two minutes and sound like snippets of larger ideas. “Final Sunset” and “From the same Hill” incorporate much of the tranquility of Eno’s ambient releases but hold a jarring bite that refuses background complacency. “M386,” with its Kraftwerk synths, almost sounds as if it could be a lost track from Eno’s career highlight, 1975’s Another Green World. And although they’re tough to spot, guest musicians, including long-time collaborator Robert Fripp on guitar, John Cale on viola, and, yes, Phil Collins on drums, are scatter throughout the tracks.
The set’s only true soundtrack, 1983’s Apollo, was written for Al Reinert’s film about the Apollo moon missions. Using Reinert’s research and interviews with the astronauts as inspiration, Eno created music that captured moods and feelings unfamiliar to most listeners, expanding their minds just as space travel expanded knowledge of the universe. On Apollo, which Eno composed with his brother Roger and guitarist Daniel Lanois, many of the songs sonically construct the feelings of a weightless abyss. Lanois’s pedal-steel guitar becomes a grounding mechanism, however, that pulls the latter half of the album to a more accessible — and less interesting — sound. “An Ending (Ascent)” is one of the few tracks that breaks from Eno’s determination to compose the unfamiliar. With its slow-sweeping crescendos and (gasp) basic chord changes, the song is now instantly recognizable because of its appearance in the films 28 Days Later and Traffic.
Thursday Afternoon is considered the first album created specifically with the CD format in mind, its only medium of release in 1985. The album’s sole track is sixty-one minutes — beyond cassette capacity — and the composition includes quiet moments so delicate that Eno did not want them washed away by surface noise from vinyl or cassettes. Composed when Eno was interested in light-and-sound installations, the humming background drone rises gradually beneath lightly struck keys to occasionally introduce new subtle flavors while dismissing others. Eno referred to Thursday Afternoon’s construction as “holographic,” meaning any small bit is representative of the entire work. The piece is fascinating enough without its history. But knowing the importance of the piece’s near-silent moments will have listeners applauding the remastering job as their ears grasp each passing detail.