Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is 'Original Soundtracks 1' by Passengers.
Twenty three years ago an album was released by one the biggest bands in the world at a time when they were at their creative zenith. However, they decided not to put their name on it, didn’t really promote it (in fact some of the band largely dismissed it) leading to the worst record sales of their career and the album more or less disappearing in to the mists of time, save for one track.
The band were U2, the album being ‘Original Soundtracks 1’ which was released under the moniker Passengers, the reason for that trotted out at the time was that Eno was so heavenly involved that it wouldn’t be fair to him to just call it a U2 album, but one suspects there was more to it than that - as Jim Faber of New York's Daily News put it, "It can't speak well of an album when the artists involved won't even put their real names on it."
The disappointing thing is that ‘Original Soundtracks 1’ is a fine record released at a time (1995) when U2 had earned the right to produce something as experimental as the album turned out to be. Their powerful return with ‘Achtung Baby’, followed by their state-of-the-art high concept Zoo TV tours and the production of ‘Zooropa' in a mid-tour creative frenzy saw a band who seemed to be brimming with confidence & invention willing to push the boundaries of what they could achieve in the studio cajoled by their innovative guru, Brian Eno.
According to Eno, despite the successful outcome the recording of 1993's ‘Zooropa’ the band had to overcome quite a brick wall, which they did when he encouraged them to try some improvised sessions. The recordings were so fruitful that Eno proposed more which led to ‘Original Soundtracks 1’ where they engaged in free-form jamming to video clips from various films - hence the name.
The album kicks off with United Colours which continues the atmospheric soundscapes from their previous album, it’s an extended instrumental which is reminiscent of Bowie’s work on ‘Low’ - with its distorted guitars, irregular beat patterns, snatched sound bites, samples & even some sax.
A beautiful descending segue from The Edge leads us in to Slug where the fantastic rhythms of the album really kick in for the first time, and where Bono’s subtle, tongue-in-cheek vocal offers up the strangest paean to love you might imagine.
We are then treated to an absolute tour-de-force with Your Blue Room where all the elements combine to deliver one of the best U2 tracks released in the past 25 years, Bono has even nominated it as one of his favourite U2 songs. Here he is at his very best (today’s version could do well by revisiting his work here) as he combines both quiet, subtle delivery with a tender, pleading falsetto aided by incantations from the chorus and one Adam Clayton who recites the final verse. It’s all soundtracked by absolutely gorgeous organ work, a perfect combination of drums and bass before some sublime reverb from The Edge leads to a Twin-Peaksesque finale.
We’re then off on a ride through cyberspace on Alway Forever Now with its pulsing beats & afro-rythms driving us along. The atmosphere is piled on with undulating treated guitar riffs and electro-phasing, combined with the constant repetition of the title we get a track which could well stand as an anthem for some sort of unified new world order. Actually, it was said at the time that the person most unhappy with the recording was Larry as according to Bono they didn’t let him play drums. Well what ever barbs you can throw at ‘Original Soundtracks 1’ it certainly doesn’t lack for variety & imagination in it’s use of percussion which is showcased brilliantly here.
A Different Kind of Blue represents the album’s first misstep and is easily the most obvious Eno influenced track on the album.
Beach Sequence certainly wears its soundtrack credentials on its sleeve - a understated combination of piano & guitar which is the perfect lead in to what is the stand-out piece on the album.
It’s safe to say that Miss Sarajevo is the most obvious U2 song and it really is an outstanding track. It deservedly stands out in their extensive catalogue for for being hugely ambitious whilst being perfectly restrained. The obvious highlight is Pavarotti’s contribution which almost reaches the emotional heights of his famous rendition of Nessun Dorma however its success is built on the delicate balance between The Edge’s guitar and Craig Armstrong’s beautiful string arrangement.
If Miss Sarajevo is the most U2 song on the album then Ito Okashi is probably the most un-U2 track - a futuristic Japanese lamentation with Holi providing a haunting vocal in her native tongue.
One Minute Warning continues the strange sci-fi vibe with more irregular rhythms, samples, and soundbites layered over guitar bursts that recall elements from 'The Unforgettable Fire' with the returning chorus providing seemingly dystopian proclamations.
Corpse (These Chains Are Way Too Long) might have been a fitting way to close the album as it’s a weirdly western, blues-tinged, smoky atmospheric track that’s hard to pin down but eerily effective.
With Elvis Ate America Mr Hewson is in full-on stream of conscious mode riffing on all things related to the “King of Rock’n’Roll” over an industrial rhythm track provided by Howie B - it’s far from subtle but is delivered with a large dose of humour so just about gets a pass.
However the last three tracks Plot 180, Theme from The Swan, and Theme from Let's Go Native seem incidental and unrealised. The way they are presented almost mirrors the possible declining faith in the project as it came to its conclusion, which is a disappointing way to conclude an album that bursts with so much imagination.
‘Original Soundtracks 1’ certainly isn’t a prefect album but there are plenty of moments that suggest that U2 were a much more interesting and creatively successful unit when they were being brave and took risks. Unfortunately such courage has been in short supply over the past 15 years in a vain effort to stay trendy & relevant. So despite its indulgences ’Original Soundtracks 1’ certainly stands more than favourably than you might have imagined particularly when compared with U2’s recent releases.