Best Albums of 2019: Brian Eno ‘Apollo: Extended Edition’

Apollo: Extended Edition (1983, reissue on UMC/Virgin)

Awe. That’s what the deeper tracks from ambient pioneer Brian Eno’s spacemusic classic Apollo still evoke, most of them from the album’s first half, and profoundly so. Pieces like “Under Stars”, “Drift” and “The Secret Place”. Glistening, shifting tones, mysterious dissonant noises and quietly epic drones, the soundtrack to a 1983 documentary about the NASA’s Apollo space missions. Now to mark 50 years since the first moon landing we get this extended reissue of an album on which Eno and his collaborators were attempting, in Eno’s words, to make sounds that captured a mix of emotions never before experienced by humans. The jaw-droppingly beautiful synth/choral progression of “Ascent” remains the album’s pinnacle, even though its unfathomable cosmic power has since been misused multiple times by Western film directors who shoehorned it into films and scenes where it didn’t belong.

The more structured and obviously melodic tunes that comprise most of the original album’s second half evoke more of a sense of gentle wonder than awe, and they have also aged beautifully. I always wondered how the country and western strains of Daniel Lanois’ pedal steel guitar made it onto an album like this and the answer came in an excellent new short documentary by Vice magazine. Some of the Apollo astronauts were Southerners and took cassettes of country music songs with them into space, and Eno liked this allusion of frontier music played in a new context.

And speaking of new, For All Mankind is a companion album of new pieces created by Lanois and brothers Eno for this extended edition. Let’s get one thing out of the way: it doesn’t sound like Apollo. There are no deep drone pieces like “Under Stars” here; overall it’s less floaty music with less blurry sounds. The better way to approach these 11 tracks is as a standalone collection of synth-based instrumentals by the trio, with occasional echoes of the spacious, elegant melodies and pedal steel guitar colours of the original. On that count it’s just fine, and occasionally quite sublime. “At The Foot Of A  Ladder” is a perfectly hypnotic space waltz, while “Under The Moon” with Roger Eno’s piano sounds like one of the better Budd/Eno pieces.

Best Albums of 2019 Reviews Index

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