United Colours

…and so the Passengers project begins, seemingly with a metronome and a ghostly draft of sound effects. Over five and a half minutes, it proceeds to build into an album highlight. A profusion of electronica, rock and even jazz results. The backing story to all this is of a marketing executive on the Japanese Shinkansen, being haunted in a living dream by those he’s manipulated. Of all the films, real or fake, documented in OS1, I can’t help but feel based on the music that this is probably one of the most real – “Miss Sarajevo”, great as the song is, sounds like it should be documenting something fairly Hollywood. It isn’t, but Eno and U2 seemingly understand horror-film music meticulously; the dynamics leap about in relative unpredictability, and the melodies are played out against eerie drones, which is the one sure way to create a tense atmosphere.

As I’ve already said, there’s a metronomic ticking against that whistling, airy drone at the start, with the slightest flickers of synthesiser. They then erupt into a rattling, jumpy timbre, whilst what sounds roughly like a horn arrangement flies past along with vague sounds of screaming. The drum machine and bass kick in shortly after. For some reason, Larry’s credited with “rhythm synthesiser”, although given that all the synthesisers are repeating patterns, it’s hard to see exactly what that refers to. And then during the fourth minute comes the “good bit” – the scream sounds speed up and fade away, like a tape being sped up and worn out simultaneously. Then muffled noises whoosh in, like a wind ripping through a door. Then enters the guitar – no delay, not even a discernable riff, but instead a low, grinding hum doubled by bass and raising tension further. After five minutes, a saxophone adds to the chaos of what is now multiple synthesisers, sequencers, a drum machine, bass and guitar, its hyperactive line seemingly pushing the song over the edge as it dies away within thirty seconds.

Possibly more than any other Passengers song, “United Colours” justifies its length through this – almost right up until the end, new elements come in, making it a packed five and a half minutes through this. It’s not content to repeat an uninspiring part for three minutes, which in part improves its better parts, as they don’t hang around. It also enters with more purpose than much of the rest of the album – if OS1 has a weakness, it’s that too much of it could be used to soundtrack almost anything other than Georgian costume drama. Not so here – it’s focused, determined and as such hits all targets. It’s also, by the way, named with a nod towards United Colours of Benetton, whose racing team won both F1 championships the year this was released.

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~ by 4trak on September 18, 2008.

2 Responses to “United Colours”

  1. There is so little on the internet that really takes aim at understanding the Passengers project, and as such, I applaud your bravery and insight here. I myself WORSHIP everything from “Achtung Baby” through “Pop,” and lament their work thereafter in the effort to “return to form.” While I love the abstractness of “Achtung Baby,” the ideology of “Zooropa” and the bitterness of “Pop,” I seem to return to the Passengers more than any of them. If I meet someone who also loves this album, I know I will instantly be friends with them.

  2. Totally agree with the above poster. Excellent reviews of these albums and tracks man. Thanks for these.

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