Navigating the aural landscape of Brian Eno's Top Boy (Score from the Original Series) is akin to journeying through the myriad layers of London's constantly in-flux urban topography—a journey through austerity, gentrification, resilience, and complex human conditions. Available across various formats, including digitally and via 2x LP, this collection establishes itself as an essential component of the groundbreaking British series it accompanies.
Brian Eno, a stalwart of ambient music with an ever-evolving career spanning five decades, applies the same meticulous ethos to this soundtrack as he has to landmark works like Music for Airports and collaborations with David Byrne. The result? An aural environment that serves as more than mere background noise; it's a narrative force that profoundly enriches the complex visual tapestry of Top Boy.
For the uninitiated, Top Boy is a recently concluded British television crime drama that has spanned 32 episodes across five seasons, beginning on BBC before being picked up by Netflix. The show digs deep into the societal microcosm of the fictional Summerhouse estate in Hackney, London, presenting a sharp-eyed dissection of the complexities of urban life. The drama, known for its insightful portrayals and realism, has earned multiple British Academy Television Awards (BAFTA). It has also drawn favorable comparisons to other culturally significant crime dramas, such as The Wire and Snowfall. In fact, Eno's score itself won a 2021 BAFTA for Best Original Music.
Ronan Bennett, the show's creator, and the production team—executive producers including rapper Drake, basketball superstar LeBron James, and others—have fostered an environment where Eno's compositions could breathe and expand. In this collaborative dynamic, the music serves as more than mere embellishment; it often functions as a subtle narrator for the scenes. With that in mind, it's fitting that Eno's score abstains from Hollywood grandiosity. Unlike his grandiose Prophecy Theme for David Lynch's 1984 film Dune, Eno's soundtrack for Top Boy opts for a more grounded approach. It juxtaposes ethereal and extra-terrestrial landscapes to create an immediate terrestrial atmosphere.
The opening piece, Top Boy (Theme), offers listeners a tranquil yet foreboding atmosphere. This approach bears similarities to Oliver Coates' score for Aftersun. Both serve as more than just musical accompaniment; they are subtle narrative forces that heighten the emotional resonance of their respective visual narratives. The music in both is not simply a backdrop; it is a character in itself. Further examples include the voyeuristic urgency of Dangerous Landscape, Sky Blue Alert, and The Good Fight, tracks that amplify the tension and visceral reality of the on-screen dramaturgy.
Alongside Eno's individual compositions, the album features collaborative efforts with Michael "Mikey J" Asante. Tracks like Cutting Room 1, a previously unreleased gem, serve as rhythmic punctuations in the album's flow, mirroring the complex rhythms of the lives it depicts. It's a choice that also reflects Eno's unerring eye for detail, as showcased in his previous anthology, Film Music 1976-2020.
While on the subject of Film Music 1976-2020, it's evident that a strong lineage exists between this collection and Top Boy. Eno showcases his ability to craft nuanced, multidimensional sonic worlds in both works. It's a skill that he has honed over decades of compositional work, from esoteric ambient pieces to blockbuster scores for directors like David Lynch, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Danny Boyle. In many ways, Top Boy encapsulates Eno's evolution as a composer. It is informed by the ambient minimalism in his early works and yet rooted in the cinematic, influenced by his admiration for Nino Rota's Fellini scores. This ethos is palpable across tracks like Damp Bones and Afraid Of Things. The music seems so intrinsically connected to the show's themes and characters that it almost feels extracted from the very air of Summerhouse, sidestepping the stereotypical tropes that often define scores in gritty urban dramas.
In Top Boy, Brian Eno does what he excels at: he crafts a sonic environment that not only serves the medium it accompanies but also resonates with the deeper, more reflective needs of listeners in this age of 'vibes music.' It's a soundtrack that doesn't just capture the essence of a singular TV series; it enriches it, making for an indelible auditory experience as multifaceted and profound as the groundbreaking show it complements.