On U2

This entry was posted by on Friday, 13 March, 2009 at

I want to play the guitar very badly and I do play the guitar very badly.

When I was a young man, I fell in love with a rock and roll band. It was the sort of everything-they-do-is-perfect infatuation that is usually reserved for the opposite sex… though I highly doubt I’m the only one to ever make that mistake. Kids, don’t fall in love with a rock and roll band; they are only going to break your heart.

I used to think that U2 was Bono and the Edge and those other two guys. I remember one day in high school, I was listening to the radio as I drove when the (possibly stoned) DJ announced, “Here’s the theme from Gilligan’s Island.” What followed instead was a new version of the theme from Mission: Impossible, and I thought to myself, “This sounds like U2.” If you can imagine in the days before the internet was common, when information traveled a lot more slowly, I had no idea that – not U2 – but rather Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. were redoing the theme for the forthcoming movie. And here were these two guys whom I had always overlooked, whose contribution to the band was so fundamental that without any prior knowledge, I could immediately recognize their touch even on a cover of a well know piece of music.

What can I say, I was a man obsessed back then. When did the love die? Was it when Zooropa was pretty good, but certainly no Achtung Baby? Was Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1 just a little too abstract? Was it the continual delays that finally resulted in Pop, which was still so unfinished that almost every song released as a single from that album was a whole new recording? Was it their ever rising ticket prices, for ever crappier seats? Was it a little of everything?

I suppose I have been insulting U2 like a scorned lover for some time now. Particularly their (until last week) two most recent albums. I know that I am in the minority, but I really like Pop. I’m listening to it right now in fact. I admit that some of the electronic stuff is a bit over-the-top, but I think that lyrically, it is their strongest album to date. Then a few years down the road comes All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which had a few songs with lyrics that I honestly wondered if Bono let his kids write. I do not really hate that album as much as I let on. About half of it is really quite good. It is merely the fact that only half of it is good, when I had come to expect so much more, that makes it so disappointing.

Then we had the rise of the iTunes Music store, which I believe I was one of the first to get on board with (and definitely one of the first to jump off board.) But I did take the opportunity to download “Vertigo.” This song was peculiar in the sense that it reminded me most of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, a single from before they even had their first album… as if the twenty five or so intervening years had never happened. Yet, it was not really that good, and for the first time, I decided to pass on the new album. Someone eventually gave it to me anyway, and on my first listen, I could not help but think, “Man, there is not a good song on this album!” Maybe “Crumbs From Your Table”… MAYBE… I listen to it several more times before I finally decided that I was just trying to hard, and that I would never give an album that much of a chance if it did not happen to say “U2” on the cover. The problem with this album is that it is just bland. The online community seemed reluctant to criticize it, but I did read one person’s opinion somewhere that it suffered from “rank amateur mixing” and “too many producers, not enough of whom were named ‘Eno’ or ‘Lanois’.” Fair enough. Some time back I found a clip on YouTube from one of their previous tours, and one commentor mentioned about how this was when they used to be good, but now they “just play songs for your mom.” Well said.

Then they got in bed with Apple and had the U2 iPod, and The [semi-]Complete U2; and then there was the Best Of-According-To-Who-Exactly? And now we have all sorts of ‘Remastered’ this and ‘Limited Edition’ that. One might overlook the selling out if they were still putting out butt-kicking music, but to sell out while releasing boring music? Inexcusable.

FREEEEEEDOM has a scent
Like the top of a new born baby’s head!
The songs are in your eyes,
I see them when you smile.
I’ve had enough, I’m not giving up
On a miracle… A miracle drug!
–U2, “Miracle Drug”

Uhhhhhhhhhh… what?

Even so, on a good day, in a generous mood, I might be willing to admit that there are as many as four decent songs on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Yet after trying to convince myself for so long that it maybe was not so bad after all, I popped Achtung Baby in my car CD player for awhile… and yeah, they have fallen an awful long way. Even the weakest song off of that album [which after much difficult deliberation, I am going to go with “So Cruel”] will still kick the stuffing out of anything off of ATYCLB, HTDAAB, and really probably most albums by a lot of other artists one might care to mention.

U2 3D was pretty amazing though. Maybe “they’ve still got it” when it comes to live performance. You know, if you can actually see them.

It also bares mentioning that I still consider it to be my “useless superpower” to be able to recognize a U2 song in any environment. I have even been so bold as to claim that I can name any U2 song “in one note.” Which is probably not true, but I have made some modestly impressive identifications in crowded restaurants. (The sort of thing where the response is often, “I don’t even hear a song,” then after a pause to listen intently, “Oh yeah, you’re right!”)

So the new album came out last week. I was in denial for awhile. I resisted listening to the new single, “Get on Your Boots” for quite some time. When I finally did, my impression was that it was not exactly ‘bad’, but that it did seem to have “one hit wonder” written all over it, which is sad for a band with a thirty year career. “Sexy boots”? What are you talking about? I read somewhere that the song is about how men have ruined everything and it’s time to let the women take over. I happen to come from a family where I think that idea would go over quite well, but I do not buy it myself.

Anyway, I have not yet bought the new CD. Last week they were unprecedentedly the music guest on Letterman for the entire week. I missed Monday night, but Tuesday and Wednesday they played new songs, one of which was “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” and the other I have completely forgotten. But it seems like they went from being too “Adult Contemporary” to trying to appeal to preteens. Then on Thursday they played “Beautiful Day” from two albums back. What, so after three songs they have already run out of new material? Nice.

I was thinking about all of this when it occurred to me that U2’s latest albums are not even my least favorite. You know what album I really do not like? The Unforgettable Fire. Sure, you have “Pride” and “Bad” which are classics, but can you even name another song? [A Sort of Homecoming-Pride-Wire-The Unforgettable Fire-Promenade- 4th of July-Indian Summer Sky-Bad-MLK-Elvis Presley and America.] Wow, okay… I guess I do. (Wrong order though.) Do you know any of the words then? And you hunger for the time/Time to heal/Desire time/Hmm hmm hmmmm/Hmm hmm hmmmmmm…yeah, I’m out. Well, amusing diversion aside, my point was that this album is (ironically) quite forgettable. But they followed that with The Joshua Tree which was pretty okay I guess. So maybe they just have an off album now and then, or an off year… decade, whatever.

I guess this concludes my review of the new album, without touching the new album. I leave you with an observation I made a number of years ago, but since then the pattern has continued to the point that I can only assume that they are doing it on purpose, though I can not imagine why:

October *song title*
The Unforgettable Fire *song title*
The Joshua Tree
Rattle and Hum *song lyric (Bullet the Blue Sky)*
Achtung Baby
Zooropa *song title*
All That You Can’t Leave Behind *song lyric (Walk On)*
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
No Line on the Horizon *song title*

2 Responses to “On U2”

  1. sarah

    This is Sarah Beth…I must admit that I didn’t read the whole post, but what to share that I have the same superpower. I think it’s more of a sixth sense. I feel the music before the I hear it because it is so emotionally charge. It usually goes like this in my head,” hm, why am I feeling this way…back in time”..auditory kicks in..”One!”…friend, “I don’t even hear any music…oh..yeah.”

  2. Anonymous

    I agree with Sarah

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