A Boston Globe review of the U2/Brian Eno Passengers side project, from Nov. 7, 1995 and written by Jim Sullivan…
Eno, U2 Make an Original
The five guys who put together Original Soundtracks 1 (Island) refer to themselves as Passengers, and that’s fair enough: They’re not trading on their star status, not publicly or ostentatiously, anyway. That is, they’re not billed as U2 and Brian Eno, and no one should misconstrue this album as being the latest U2 opus.
As to Eno fans? Well, they might automatically, and justifiably, perk up their ears, but they’re a more limited group, as Eno has never sold more than 100,000 copies of any one album.
Eno – Roxy Music cofounder, U2’s frequent producer, David Bowie’s on-and-off collaborator and a long-term progressive solo artist of high regard – is a wizard in many ways. This disc, in stores today, very much bears his sonic imprint. Fans of Eno’s Another Green World and his ambient work will be enchanted.
Original Soundtracks 1 also features the voice of Luciano Pavarotti singing “Miss Sarajevo” with Bono. Before your knee-jerk reaction kicks in – yet another incongruous, showboating Bono duet! – let me state that’s it’s a sad, emotionally wrenching gem.
The album was done quickly this past summer, while U2 and Eno were working on U2’s next rock album, not due for release until mid-1996. It is mostly soothing, flowing, occasionally jarring. There are six vocal tracks (no towering Bono epics) and eight instrumentals. Eno recently told Billboard he used animation from students at the Royal College of Art in London, where he is a professor of film, to spark the musicians, among whom were Japanese singer Holi and DJ Howie B.
The idea was to create a series of possible film scores for movies yet to be conceived. An audacious but whimsical conceit. Eno did this in the 1970s with Music for Films. In the late 1980s, he scored a soundtrack to a Japanese documentary about how the Earth was formed. It was rejected. Too violent, too dark, too disturbing, he was told, which caused Eno to chuckle. As if the Earth’s formation was anything but!
One track here, “Your Blue Room,” does come from an unreleased movie by Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders called Beyond the Clouds, and “Miss Sarajevo” was featured in a documentary about Bosnia that aired on the BBC. The rest? A sea of possibilities, most of them calming soundscapes.
Eno has long been interested in music, both rock and nonrock, as background or foreground, as entertainment or art. A clever lyricist, he’s declared lyrical import to be overrated, and his main focus for some time has been texture, nuance and mood – musical interplay, not pop message. U2 can go either way, but the musicians are certainly far less obvious, politically, than they were in their early period. Both Eno and U2 favor oblique strategies.
That said, “Miss Sarajevo,” is a soft stunner. It came about when Pavarotti went to Dublin to ask U2 to participate in his multi-act outdoor concert in Modena, Italy, on Sept. 12. That show raised funds for Bosnian children through the War Child charity. The song itself plays off a beauty pageant held during the war – a “normal” event meant to suggest that life does continue. Same theme for the song. Bono sings the main body and Pavarotti enters near the end, with Bono coming back to recycle simple pleas. It’s graceful, almost spine-tingling, floating on a water bed of synthesizers and piano.
The other knockout, if that term can be used, is “Elvis Ate America,” a terse Bono musing, a rhyme-rant (“genius, generous”) about the King and his court. It’s spooky and swampy, with the climactic lines “Elvis ate America/Before America ate him.”
The bulk of this album is instrumental and experimental. It allows U2 the freedom to dream and drift, even more than they did on Zooropa. Clearly, this is a band that wants to keep growing beyond pop constraints while not turning its back on commercialism altogether. With Eno as collaborator and provocateur, they have met their ideal match.