Friday, March 26, 2004

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF ALL TIME: # 44

BRIAN ENO - Apollo LP

It must have been late 1999, maybe early 2000... I woke up one morning and it felt like there was a stranger in the house, something or someone that wasn't supposed to be there. I searched around for a bit then finally discovered the culprit sitting there in a pile next to the stereo: it was the dozen+ albums I owned by Brian Eno. How the hell did this happen? Am I a, gulp, Brian Eno fan? I 'fessed up: Yes, yes I am a fan. A big fan.

Why was this any kind of revelation, or something I wouldn't readily admit to? I mean, isn't Eno one fuckin' righteous dude we should all celebrate? Of course he is, though I was reluctant to do so at first. I think my original prejudice sprung from my (rather ignorant) opinion of him as an effete, dilettante poser of the David Bowie School of Rock whose sole contribution to contemporary music was his large and overwhelming influence on various New Romantic nudniks better left forgotten. That, of course, is total baloney. Then there's that great U2 hurdle one must take a flying leap over (and erase from one's memory), and what you're left with is a good dozen or more LPs with Eno's name on it which are nothing less than essential: Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure (with Roxy Music), Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain, Another Green World, Discreet Music, Before And After Science, Music for Films, Music for Airports, On Land, Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl (both with Harold Budd), No Pussyfooting and Evening Star (both with Robert Fripp), My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (with David Byrne) and, naturally, Apollo.

The strange thing with Eno, at least in my case, is that his music crept up on me and claimed me as a fan without me even noticing. Between the years 1997 and 2000 I acquired all these LPs cheaply - 2nd-hand Eno vinyl being bountiful at the time - and methodically, shrugging my shoulders nonchalantly and mumbling "Yeah, he's OK" when people asked me if I was a fan, and it wasn't until that fateful day described above that I came to the realisation that Eno is just as fucking great as all those '70s proto-punkers claimed he was. And let's look at it this way: how many great artists do you know who've made at least a dozen killer albums? And I mean "killer" in the sense that they're all different to each other, all make up a piece of a puzzle and every one is just as essential as the other. Rolling Stones? Not in my book. Beatles? Did they actually make that many? Neil Young? Yep, probably. Miles Davis? Sun Ra? Easy. In my book, that puts Mr. Eno up there in the Pantheon of the Greats.

Apollo was the first Eno disc I bought, purely on a whim because the album looked kinda, you know, "cosmic". Looking at the year of production - 1983 - that's a hell of a gamble, since the number of "survivors" from the '70s who went on to make some similarly rad music in the '80s you could probably count on one hand (and it likely wouldn't include Miles and Neil Young). Apollo was originally conceived as the soundtrack for a short film or some pretentious art installation piece (do you care?) documenting the first landing on the moon, though it soon took on a life of its own, with this album being undoubtedly more famous and well-known than the film it was supposed to accompany (much like More, the film Pink Floyd did the music for... does anyone actually know of anyone who's seen it??).

So anyway, Apollo is divided up quite equally in its musical scope between its two sides: side A is pure keyboards and ambience. The song titles perfectly narrate the feel of the album and the individual songs: "Under Stars", "The Secret Place", "Matta", "Signals", etc. The most outstanding track here is undoubtedly "An Ending (Ascent)", with soaring keyboard lines that brilliantly capture a sense of serene drifting (by coincidence, I saw the film 28 Days Later the other night, and this track is used to great effect in such a scene), and the side's last song "Drift" being a nice ending coda to the proceedings.

The second side is a radically different matter. I once described it as alternately sounding like a futuristic ballet and a country-tinged Muzak band on heroin. Wooaah! Somebody call All Music Guide, we have a new genre! Seriously, whilst such descriptions may simply elude to the fact that I'm struggling for a comparison, they still sound accurate to these ears. Both "Silver Morning" and "Weightless" are like valiumed-out slabs of guitar twang, part MOR schmaltz and part Spacemen 3; "Deep Blue Day" brings to mind Jah Wobble's adaption of "Swan Lake" on Metal Box, but best of all is "Always Returning", Apollo's jewel in the crown, a repetitive (looped?) piano piece which is so damn beautiful I'm choking up just thinking about it. Listen and believe.

There aren't too many records I've listened to more in the 21st century than Apollo. Anyone deriding this as New Age has either never heard the sheer drivel such a genre produces, or never sat down and listened to the layers of sound at work here. In one full sitting, this is about as close to perfection as you can get.

Pros: The ultimate space-rock - minus the "rock" - masterpiece. Play this back to back with Space Ritual and zone out. Use mind-altering substances at your discretion.
Cons: The particularly (and needlessly) anal may fear the Spirit of Bono in their presence.
Related Releases: All those discs mentioned above. Drop what you're doing, leave the house and purchase said albums. That's an order!

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